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


Who Knew George W Bush Was So Insightful?
August 11, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Context, Insight

Remember when George W was elected?

The World’s opinion was a mixture of fear and ridicule and yet I bet we’d all have him back in a heartbeat compared to the mess that is Trump.

But that isn’t what this post is about, it’s about an article I read on Bush and Bill Clinton and the close friendship they have developed between each other. [No seriously, check this out]

Before I go on, this is the article.

To be honest, I found it enlightening.

Not just because you learnt the foundation of their friendship was based on how they respectfully handled each others victory and defeat, but because Bush brilliantly explains how a professional reputation can be forged and destroyed.

“The Presidency is often defined by the unexpected. It makes the job interesting.”.

I love that.

It’s a great lesson to us all.

Sure, there are more eyes on the President’s actions than a planner in LA [or NYC, Shanghai and London] but the principal is the same, how you are viewed by others is by how you deal with the unexpected.

And if that scared you to death, here’s the good news.

Given the majority of us are exposed to unexpected events on a fairly regular basis, you have the chance to redefine or cement your reputation on a continual basis … which might be a useful thing to remember next time a crisis hits your plate.

Wow, I’ve just been nice about George W but then, as I wrote before, it appears the Bush family become far more human with age.



A Half Brit, Half Italian Who Spent 7 Years Living In China And Now Lives In America Starts Work At An Agency That Sounds Awfully Like A German Bank …

So as you know I have left China and moved to LA.

And, given I’ve written about it, you know the reasons behind the decision.

However I am also conscious I haven’t said where I am going. OK, so I know others have said where I’m going, but I haven’t. At least on here. 

Well today is the day, because today is the day I start my new job.

Actually I should say today is the day I start my main job because I’m also doing an on-going project with a rather famous rock band [ no, it’s not Queen] however I’m super excited to announce that as of this morning, I have become partner, chief strategy officer and official ‘new boy at school’ at American agency, Deutsch.

If you are based in the US, I’m sure you’ve heard of them but if you’re not, you’ll probably know them for this

To say they’re big is an understatement.

They’re huuuuuuuuge.

Massive clients. Massive office. Massive team.

Basically it’s the classic American cliche … everything is bigger in the US.

Now I’ve got to admit, there’s an element of their scale that makes me nervous … but that’s part of the reason I am so excited to be here.

When we were deciding where to go, I was very clear I didn’t want to do something that was similar to what I’ve been doing over the last 7 years. That’s not because I haven’t loved it – I’ve loved it almost too much – but because I couldn’t see the point of leaving a company I love if I was only go to end up at another company that wanted to be like the company I’ve just left.

What Deutsch offers me is the chance to play and learn in new areas.

Sure, it’s still advertising … but there’s a few fundamental differences from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

1. I’m going to be a partner.

I’ve got to be honest, this was very important to me. I always want to grow and be challenged and one of the things I knew would be good for me was if I was given the additional – and official – responsibility for helping run an office.

Now you may think I had that at Wieden Shanghai – and I did, kinda – however the structure of the company meant that unless I become an MD [something I don’t want to be] I would always be an invited guest, never one of the hosts.

I should point out I knew this when I joined and I was always given the opportunity to speak up and speak out, however I believe there’s a point where responsibility without authority undermines your potential and ambition and ultimately, I wanted to see if I could make a bigger difference to a company or if I’m full of shit.

2. Deutsch are much more into using tech to solve their clients business problems.

This is almost going back to the way cynic approached things and I love that. However, it is not for the reason that I am sure Northern Planner will suggest … which is that I might be able to convince a client to let me make a moped or car for them.

In all seriousness, one of the things I really liked about Deutsch was their desire to forge their own direction rather than replicate someone else’s. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places try and mimic Wieden without seemingly realising there’s only one W+K and they will always be the best in the World at what they do.

Deutsch’s ambitions feel more entrepreneurial and applied and I find that desire, fascinating.

3. I get to set direction for brands rather than translate someone else’s direction.

While I’ve worked around the World and represented massive regions of the globe, the reality is in most cases, I’ve been about translating someone else’s perspective on what the brand does/is. Someone who tends to work and live in America.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really found this a hindrance – especially in China, where the cultures was so different, so it was always fun to try and work out how to make things connect – but it will be nice to be at the real start of the challenge for once.

Of course there’s other reasons …

The partners are all great people who just happen to work in advertising.

I get to infect a new bunch of talented planners and hopefully make them even better than they thought they could be.

I have the opportunity to make my new team one of the most respected/hated/mischievous departments in the whole of North America. I find that idea really exciting and really infectious.

And then there’s the 2 big ones …

I get to give my family an environment that is healthy for them and we get to experience and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. Again.

Those are worth their weight in gold … especially as we’ve found a Mandarin school for Otis so he can still feel a connection to the country he was born in and the country his father loves and will miss deeply.

[Oh, we also own and get to drive cars again for the first time in 15 years. I am embarrassingly excited about it … though driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ is interesting … especially for all the other drivers in LA]

In fact the only thing I don’t like about my new job is that I’m called the Chief Strategy Officer.

I’m not that keen on that. It feels so cold. So exclusive. So disconnected to creativity.

But I get America loves its titles so it’s a small price to pay for the adventure.

So we will see what happens.

It could all go down in flames or it could be a fantastic adventure and for me, when those are the possibilities, that makes me massively excited.

So thank you Deutsch for the incredible opportunity, let’s hope you don’t regret it …

More posts in a couple of weeks when I’ve either [1] settled in a bit or [2] been fired.



Is Women’s Day In Danger Of Becoming Earth Hour?

Let me start by saying that Women’s Day – and Earth Hour – shine a light on very serious issues.

Issues that should be on top of everyones mind without the need for a reminder.

I also want to say that I appreciate everything has to start from somewhere – but I’m genuinely concerned that Women’s Day will end up going the same way as Earth Hour … where society thinks if they engage on the day, then they’ve done all they need to do for the rest of the year.

I’ve written about this in the past.

While this approach is a great way to ignite a social debate about very serious issues, they often end up – at best – only having a 24 hour impact or, at worst, becoming a superficial celebration of a specific day.

Earth Hour have struggled to combat this … as demonstrated by them adding ‘+’ symbol to their logo … but it will take more than that to maintain an interest for the general population.

But at least Earth Hour has been interpreted by society as a commitment to helping the environment, because I’m not sure the same level of clarity can be said of Women’s Day.

Just recently I heard of a company who honoured the females in their company with a range of gifts consisting of an oven, a quilt and a set of pots and pans to name but a few.

I know for a fact they didn’t mean it to be offensive … quite the opposite … but this highlights how many people/companies have totally misunderstood what Women’s Day is actually about and why it is important.

To further highlight the issue, I heard that some guys wanted to start a ‘Man’s Day’.

These were intelligent, Worldly men – not Neanderthals – and if you spoke to them about equality, they’d be passionately behind it, and yet they didn’t see how their suggestion would completely undermine the importance of this day for the females in their company.

And that’s my worry.

Because equality is a fucking important thing.

Something that requires more than a day of awareness … but if that is the route we need to go down to try and ensure the debate is not allowed to be placed in the shadows, then we must at least ensure the purpose of the day is clear because frankly, while it’s fun that Burger King renamed their Shanghai store for the day, it means little if the only reason they did it was for superficial topicality.

I’m not saying that’s why they did it, but momentarily changing your brand name or giving out gender reinforcing gifts highlights that the real purpose of Women’s Day could be in danger of becoming as superficial as adding a Q&A element to the Ms World competition.



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 …




An Oldie. But A Semi-Goldie …

This is one of those ads that is constantly referred to as being a perfect example of perfect advertising.

David Ogilvy was behind it – spending 3 weeks doing nothing but reading about the car – before producing that amazing headline.

OK, so there is some conjecture whether he came up with it or not, but regardless, it’s one hell of a headline.

But here’s the thing, when you read the rest of the ad, I’m not sure if its worthy of all the accolades bestowed upon it.

Sure it comes from a different time [as the $13,995 price tag highlights] … and yes, some of the ‘features’ they mention were probably cutting edge back then [power steering for example] … but after you get past that epic headline, what you actually have is an ad that is just a list of product features.

While there are still nods to the sense of craftsmanship and technology within that list – for example, you can have a telephone as an optional extra – I can’t help but feel that all the romance the headline conjures up in your mind disappears once you get to the details.

Maybe that’s because it appears the strategy was not actually to communicate the sophistication and craftsmanship of the car, but to change the perception of it being only for the super-elite … the one’s who are chauffeured around rather than drive themselves.

Hey, I could be wrong, but the fact they use that hilarious image of a ‘Dad’ picking up the kids from the local shop after school – not to mention they state in the copy that you don’t need a chauffeur to drive it – means I might have a point.

Now I get I have no right to criticise the wonderful Mr Ogilvy and the fact this ad is continually referred to implies it was hugely successful … but when I was reminded what the actual ad looked like – rather than just hearing that headline – I couldn’t help feeing that I find this scam ad for Bentley far more appealing.

[Though I accept that just might be my Nottingham heritage shining through]



How Raising A Child Reveals Whether You’re Full Of Shit …

I love my son.

I love him so much.

He is such a sweet kid.

Sure he’s a bit cheeky and a bit mischievous, but he’s just a lovely little boy.

I want his innocence and wonder to never leave him – but sadly, I know it will.

I also know things I’d never wish on anyone will happen to him.

Bullying.

Heartbreak.

Sadness.

And all I can do is try to prepare him for it in a way where he knows he can come through the other side.

Of course part of that will be by making sure he knows he is loved and supported unconditionally by his parents … the other part is making sure he is brought up with as much openness as possible.

One of those things is him understanding men and women are equal.

As I wrote about a while ago, my wife and I have had some stick from relative strangers in how we’re bringing Otis up.

One of the things they’ve ‘questioned’ is why we let Otis play with dolls and brooms, why we bought him a kitchen set and why we let him dance wherever and whenever the mood takes him.

Of course it’s none of their fucking business … but the fact is, we don’t want Otis to grow up thinking boys do this and girls do that and seeing our little boy being as happy playing with dolls as he is with his iPad is utterly wonderful.

I have to admit, I find the level of sexism around me frightening. I find it especially bad when I hear it from a man who has daughters. I literally cannot understand that.

And yet many ignore it exists.

They say any wrong behaviour is ‘cultural’ rather than sexist.

Of course there are cultural traits that define gender roles – especially in Asia – but that doesn’t mean they’re right or you have to carry on with them, even more so when you are not from this part of the World.

And yet it is everywhere – even in supposedly liberal and developed nations, as this wonderful piece by Hillary Clinton shows.

While Hillary says the way women are judged differently to men is ‘not bad, just a fact’, I find it deplorable.

But it’s true.

I remember having to tell one of my talented female planners to clap her hands a bit differently because it looked too much like a little girl and a bunch of sexist pricks would then judge her for that. I hated having to do that … but there was no way I was going to let this talented individual be ignored just because they had decided the way she applauds looks juvenile.

And that’s why I like what Cindy Gallop is doing.

Or what she’s trying to do.

My problem is she’s treating all white men as the enemy which, in my opinion, not only doesn’t serve her purpose any good, but is the sort of generalised bollocks that certain white men have treated females.

And that’s why Otis is being raised to see equality not prejudice … because values, roles and/or potential shouldn’t be evaluated or judged by gender or demographic, even if the way society operates – including those supposedly fighting against it – wants to keep that the norm.



New Is Always Resisted …

New.

3 letters that can inspire all manner of emotions in people.

When it is associated with something you already like, you tend to be happy … excited even.

However, when it is associated with a fundamental change to what you already know and/or do … then the general response is skepticism or outright distain.

I recently did a presentation to a client of ours about the need to do 3 fundamental things when looking to push into new territories.

1. Remember society knows what they want, they just don’t know how to articulate it.*

2. Make your UX as intuitive as possible so people can move from the present day to modernity without feeling insecure.

3. Prepare to ride waves of criticism.

There were two big reasons I wanted to remind my client of this.

One is that I recently read an interview with a tech journalist who said his biggest challenge was not to review brand new technology as if it was fully developed technology. He has to remember his view should be about potential, not realisation.

The second was this …

Interesting eh?

I don’t know when that article was written.

To be honest, I’m not even sure that article is real … but given the name of the ‘journalist’, the visual design and sarcastic ‘riddle of email’ that is placed at the bottom of the piece, it does seem the sort of shit The Sun newspaper would have peddled.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how mad ‘the internet’ and ’email’ must have sounded back then – mainly because I was living through it – however, instead of having the distain of The Sun, I distinctly remember how excited I was about what I was hearing.

Maybe that was because of my age.

Maybe that was because of my love of gadget tech.

Maybe that was because I was seeing science-fiction becoming reality.

Whatever the reason, it served as an important reminder to me to listen before I dismiss.

Of course, there’s lots of new things that turn out to be a pile of shite … and sometimes that is because they are literally, a pile of shite … however societies skepticism to ‘new’ plays a huge role in whether things take off or not [acknowledging there’s a whole host of other elements] which is why the next time someone offers up something that challenges your tradition, think about what they’re trying to solve before you judge how they’re doing it … and who knows, maybe adland can be part of something new rather than packaging up someone else’s new.
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* I say this because people constantly quote Henry Ford’s “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse” … and yet, if they had said that, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what they’re saying is they want to get from point A to point B faster than the current modes of transport available to them. In other words, they were giving big clues to what they wanted without even realising it.