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


Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.

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Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.



Variety Is The Spice Of Life …

I saw this person on the tube recently.

I don’t know who they are.

I accept I have no right to talk about fashion or shoes.

But a pair of brown crocs with some glittered-up stones glued to them feels the sort of things by a Blue Peter host would have come up with circa 1982.

What makes it even more confusing is they were carrying an LV bag.

And while I haven’t seen such an odd pairing since I saw Cate Blanchett and her husband, I have to say I loved it.

It was quirky.

It was individual.

It was the sort of thing that pushes ‘fashion’ and could either crash and burn or open up a new chapter of it. And given we live in a world that tends to play safely in the middle, the people on the edges are the ones we should be looking at and celebrating.

When Martin and I did our Cannes talk for Warc, we talked about ‘the edge effect’.

It’s a genuine term – associated more with nature than planning – but the point is still valid. If you want to move brands forward, play to where culture is heading not where it is and to do that, seek out the people on the edges not smack bang in the centre.

_________________________________________________

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post, I discovered these shoes weren’t the work of a children’s TV presenter, some Pritt Stick glue, some stones from the garden and a couple of tubes of glitter but a real live bloody shoe designer.

Christopher Kane to be precise.

And what’s more, they cost £325.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Suddenly my wifi cup, remote control ball and basically 99% of everything I’ve ever bought looks a wise investment in comparison.

So to Mr Kane, your career might be done but you made me feel better about myself.Ta.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.



Warc Show They’re Weird …

As you know, the lovely fools at WARC asked Martin and I to talk at Cannes as part of our School of Strategic Arts.

That was mistake number 1.

Mistake number 2 was recording the entire session.

But if you thought it was impossible to make matters worse, they have done it by making mistake number 3 and putting it on their site for subscribers to watch.

Hahahahahahahahahaha.

Fools.

But wait, there’s more stupidity.

Yep, more than asking us to present … at Cannes … and recording our session and then putting it on their site for subscribers to watch.

They’re also allowing people to watch it for free.

FREE.

Which, if I’m honest, is the going rate for the standard of talk we gave.

Well … that I gave. Martin, as usual, was stellar.

Damn him.

Watch it here.

Send your complaints here.



Is The Lion Facing Extinction …

As you know, I recently went to Cannes.

It had been 12 years between visits and I must admit I’m quite conflicted with how I feel about the experience.

OK, so I was always in the skeptical camp.

I appreciate the need and value of celebrating ‘the best of creativity’, but I have long felt Cannes was less about that and more about celebrating the celebrity of advertising.

That said, while there were some differences, some had scarily remained the same.

The biggest difference was who were the big boys in town.

Last time I was there it was the big network agencies.

Massive venues.
Big Boats.
Grandiose parties.

And while all those things were still there, they were the domain of the tech giants … with agencies now occupying the odd beachside suite or – more typically – an Airbnb venue in one of the backstreets.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still some “look at me” statements from adland, but compared to what they were – and what the tech industry was doing – it was much more of a whimper than a roar.

This ‘tech industry doing a good impression of 80s adland’ was even more visible when it came to the evening festivities.

On the first night I was there, I found myself at the Carlton Hotel.

As usual, it was packed with people in jovial mood – either because they were catching up with old friends or were bullshitting network colleagues in a bid to look good to them.

Every now and then, you’d see a magnum of champagne being taken to a table. A fucking magnum?! Given my average burger and fries with a diet coke had cost me an eye watering €60 when I had it earlier in the day [not on expenses, so keep your rolling eyes to yourself], I literally daren’t imagine how much this cost.

But who would buy such an overt display of wealth and arrogance?

You guessed it – probably because you know ad agencies can’t afford that level of excess or expense anymore – it was people from our tech and media brothers and sisters … living and acting like it was still 1982.

There were plenty of other signs that revealed the tech companies were becoming the beasts they were meant to slay …

From the insanely big, patronising, condescending and delusional ego-driven ads that were all over Cannes [congrats IBM, that will be the only award your agency will win] to the gift bags handed out at every opportunity that were universally filled with Amazon rainforest worth of paper through to the overtly misogynistic atmosphere that permeated the air in the night.

This last thing upset me the most.

It’s bad enough that women had to deal with men propositioning, groping and touching them in the past, but the fact it is still going on – in this era of #MeToo – is breathtaking. Actually that’s not what is breathtaking, it’s the fact they felt comfortable doing it in public, at a global industry event, surrounded by peers and colleagues.

Nothing shows how prevalent sexist, predator behaviour continues to be in our industry than that.

One of my colleagues, Iain Preston, spotted a particularly unpleasant episode and thankfully stood in. You can read about it here.

As you can tell, I’m not a fan of Cannes.

Actually, let me be more specific. I’m not a fan of the behaviour of Cannes.

There are some amazing people there.

There are some amazing talks you get to listen to.

There is some amazing work to be inspired by.

I’m glad I went but happier I got to leave within a few days however I did come away with a very good reminder that the greatest gift you can give a client is the gift of honesty.

Honesty of the situation.
Honesty of the audience.
Honesty of the business or brand.
Honesty of what needs to be done.
Honesty of the creativity … in terms of encouraging the creatives to craft somewhere new not repackage and rehash something old.

Sadly this reminder came from witnessing too few agencies giving it &/or too few clients valuing it.

So to all the winners who wanted to make a difference in a way that was different, I don’t just say congratulations.

But thank you.



Consolation Prize …

I have talked about my love of Martin Parr before, which is why you can imagine my excitement when I thought I was going to pull off the ultimate collaboration between him and my side project with the masters of metal.

For absolutely fair reason, it sadly didn’t come off, but I did get a nice gift as a way of thanks … which ironically, makes me only wish it had worked out even more.

When I pitched the idea, I was asked why I thought it was a good idea.

I said I didn’t, I just thought it was interesting and sometimes, that’s all we have to go on.

The best thing with working with people who only think creatively is they totally get that … that sometimes, the intrigue of an idea is more important than the actual outcome – even if it ends up not being what you quite hoped.

I get why we all look for certainty in what we do. There’s a lot riding on it … money, employment, business … but the problem with certainty is that it is built on compromise and convenience, where the outcome is safe rather than alive.

It’s why Martin’s Weigel’s wonderful case for chaos is such an important read.

I have long been an advocate of this approach.

While it can scare people, the reality is chaos can create what order can’t and when we are all looking for ways to infect, infiltrate and shape culture, the best way to do it is to offer them something they find interesting and resonant, rather than boring and right.