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


Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.



Creativity Is About Lateral Leaps, Not Literal Execution …

So while going through my photos, I found this screen grab from Dave Trott …

To be honest, I wrote about this a couple of years ago but if it was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now.

There is more and more work that just seems to be a literal execution of the client brief.

Not even the agency brief … but the clients.

Literal.

Contrived.

Feature focused.

I can’t help but feel their strategy is to bore people into submission, and while it may be argued this approach is working – probably because all the competition are following the same thing – the reality is the value of the brand gets diluted and so the long term success of the brand ends up being based on factors like price or distribution.

Of course, price and distribution always have and always will play a critical role in a brands success, but the inherent value of it is elevated hugely when you are in a position that people actively want it and seek it out. Yet, as I wrote a while back, it appears many brand managers are only focused on sales today without any consideration for the sustainable value of the brand tomorrow and if you are constantly harvesting your good will, eventually it will run out.

The big issue is so many marketers still think people are waiting for them to advertise.

That they are sat on the edge of their seat waiting to hear from them and buy from them.

That they have nothing better to do and all that they do do, is based on rational logic.

This approach says far more about the people behind the brands than the people they hope will buy from them and while I appreciate creativity requires a leap of faith – something some marketing folk weirdly feel is an act of corporate irresponsibility – the fact is society respond to [authentic] emotion far more than rational argument, at least in terms of communication, and so if they want their brand to move forward, the only thing that can counter spend, heritage and distribution is to embrace creativity and to do that properly, it means being Lateral, not literal.



New Year. New Hopes. Old Realities …

Welcome back.

How was it?

Full of festive cheer or headaches and disappointment.

Bet you’d swap it all again for today wouldn’t you.

Even when you like your job, coming back to work after the holidays is hard.

Getting up early.

Transport hell.

Going through the same conversations with everyone at work.

Thinking about what you were doing at that time just a few days before.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Oh I know … to pay the bills.

Well fortunately not only did I have a lovely time in Australia, I ended 2019 winning the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off competition with my [surprisingly] delicious Great British Bake Off Fry-Up Pie, so you’ll understand why I have high hopes for this year – with one of the biggest hopes being we might actually move into our new home after 6+ months of legal nightmares. We shall see.

But as we are back at work and no one wants to be here, I thought I’d start by writing a post that captures a sense of optimism for the new year.

It’s 2020.

TWENTY TWENTY!!!

That means we are post Blade Runner times … which has to be cool, doesn’t it?

No.

Don’t blame you … just typing that is enough to give me heart palpitations and it’s only Monday. So to calm us down and to get back to an issue I’m passionate about – especially in these client optimization obsessed times – here is why brand building is not a luxury, but a critical investment in building a sustainable future, especially in these highly competitive, increasingly turbulent times.

Or to quote a Chinese proverb, “a successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.”

Said another way … if you’re always trying to harvest, there won’t be anything left to grow.

Given the amount of brands who are openly admitting their focus on short-term sales has hurt their long term business, there may be hope for us all to get back to making work that builds rather than just takes.

See, 2020 isn’t so bad so far after all …



WTF?

OK … so the posts so far this week have been pretty serious – at least by my standards – so to make sure no one thinks this is going to become the norm [and let’s face it, no one thinks that] I thought I’d end the week on a low.

Near my office is a cafe.

It’s very similar to Jamaica Blue, the cafe I used to go to daily when I was at Wieden+Kennedy … in so much as it sells food that looks OK but basically tastes like boiling hot cardboard and – despite me going in there every day, eating the same thing every day – the staff never remember what I have and have all the warmth of a limp salad.

You may be wondering why I go in there then?

And the answer is because I’m lazy and pathetic.

However there are 2 other reasons … reasons that even the mighty shite that was Jamaica Blue couldn’t muster.

One is that they charge me a different amount for the same thing every single day.

EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It’s not a huge amount different, but it’s different and the only reason I don’t tell them is that I get quite excited wondering what it will be each day.

Not only that, it’s still not as shit as my last week at Wieden, when I went into Jamaica Blue and discovered that they had been overcharging me for my breakfast for 7 years.

SEVEN FUCKING YEARS.

But the other reason is that my local London cafe has food combinations that even the weirdest experience in China couldn’t match. And I’m talking about a country that once put a piece of broccoli on some ice cream as they couldn’t find a leaf of mint.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about this …

Watercress.

WATERCRESS.

Not only is it the most pointless, tasteless accompaniment to the delicious carbs of pasta and cheese … you have to wonder who the hell would want it as a tasteless accompaniment to the delicious carbs of pasta and cheese.

Maybe it’s like my old Diet Tango campaign … created to offset the guilt of your bad food weaknesses … but surely, if that’s the case, they could have offered something more comprehensive.

A whole salad perhaps?

Whatever the reasons, the fact is that regardless what prices they charge … whatever mouth-melting temperature they serve their food at … whatever alternative cardboard simulation they have on display … I’ll still find myself going in there, handing them my money and then hating myself for it while also feeling strangely comforted by it all.

Which means the post I wrote about brand loyalty a while back missed one vital characteristic.

Because while I stated that true brand loyalty is when you have an almost irrational connection to a brand so you do whatever you can to have it or be associated with it [regardless of cost, access or competition] there is an alternative situation when someone feels they are not worthy of having something decent so actively make choices to choose things they don’t really like or value because they feel that is all they deserve.

Let’s call this self spite loyalty … and given my love of Jamaica Blue, Birkenstocks, Queen and countless other rubbish things, I seem to have it in droves.

Happy weekend.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Mario Has An Accident …

So I love video games.

Absolutely love them.

I’ve had pretty much every console since the bloody Philips G7000.

And trust me, if you can look at that console favorably, you must really love gaming because it was pretty shocking.

But of all the games I’ve played on all the consoles I’ve owned, one has been a particular fave.

Mario Kart.

God I love that game.

So simple yet so addictive and always so much fun.

So while I have that game on countless Nintendo consoles, when I heard it was coming out on the iPhone, I quickly downloaded it.

Only to get this …

WHAT. THE. FUCK. MARIO?!

Nintendo have always been the bastions of seamless entertainment.

Turn on and play … but they launch a game on the bloody iPhone, a device that could – in theory – open up a huge commercial opportunity for them and it doesn’t work.

Worse, they openly tell you it won’t work for a few days … which begs the question, why launch it?

Maybe it’s not Nintendo’s fault as it has been widely reported Apple launched iOS 13 too early and it’s littered with bugs [another sign that Mr Jobs is long gone] but whatever the reason, as a Nintendo and Mario fan, this has pissed me off … almost as much as it will piss R/GA off when my timesheet is filled with the job code MARIOKRT.

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I appreciate this is not exactly the best post for Remembrance Day, or maybe it’s the perfect reminder why we should all get along with our neighbours so we avoid ending up causing a wealth of pain and hurt no one deserves or recovers from.



Aspirational Averageness …

This is kind of an addition to the post I wrote a week or so ago.

You see I recently read a business magazine and almost every article – and I mean EVERY article – had a story about a company that was obviously trying to position themselves as ‘against the ordinary’.

Now while I appreciate anti-ordinary can be manifested in many ways, I couldn’t help but think that all the brands featured were selling products that were the epitome of ordinary.

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Ordinary is both misunderstood and underrated which is why I think it would be great if a company actually embraced and celebrated that’s what they did … however in the context of the companies featured in the magazine, they were suggesting that what they did elevated them beyond all comparison.

I get why they would want to do this.

I get the commercial value of being seen to do this.

But if you’re going to claim it, your products and brands should demonstrate it and in the great majority of the companies featured in the magazine, the absolute opposite was true.

There are probably a ton of reasons for this.

From the ego of management to the job protection strategies of the people below them to the revenue fear of the agencies they work with … but that still doesn’t escape the fact the stuff they made was about as bland as a beige Volvo.

To paraphrase that old joke, isn’t it disappointing the people who know how to create extraordinary products and brands decided to end up making beige and boring instead.