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


Craft Is Not A Cost …

The picture above is a ‘behind the scenes’ photo of Queen preparing for a photoshoot.

Not just any photoshoot … but one that define their immortality.

Now looking at the state of them, you’d not thing that was possible.

John Deacon is wearing a Queen t-shirt for christsake.

But in the hands of the brilliant photographer Mick Rock, he turned these 4 lads into genuine music icons with an image that will outlive the band and define an album, a song and a video for decades ahead.

At a time where more and more people are trying to devalue the value of craft, I hope people see this and remember it’s not a cost, but an investment that pays for itself many times over.

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April Fools Day …

Today is a great day.

Not just because it’s a day where mischief is actively celebrated, but because throughout history, there have been a number of great things that happened on this day.

For example today is the day Dan Wieden and David Kennedy officially opened W+K.

Yep, the best communication agency in history opened on this day, which means April 1 should be a day we’re all thankful for.

Then there’s the rumour that BBH started on the same day, but having heard about some Portland ad agency starting on the same day, they decided to say theirs started on the 2nd.

Again, BBH are one of the World’s best which is another reason why we should all be thanking the calendar gods for this day.

And remember, when I say ‘best’ … I don’t mean it in the past tense. Both Wieden and BBH’s brilliance is, as I wrote here, that they have been setting standards for over 30 years. Given we’re an industry that seems to celebrate ‘hype today, gone tomorrow’, that is definitely a reason to celebrate April 1st.

But it’s not all ad agency starting … there’s the fact that today is the day I wrote one of my favourite blog posts.

The one about method planning.

The one lots of planners and industry media seemed to think was real, which not only made me very, very happy … it also proved they don’t read all the way through my posts because I admitted it’s fakeness in the very last line.

So let’s acknowledge that April 1 is epic … but the reason to celebrate it today is because it’s the day the brilliant – but evil – Amelia, launches WorldWideWeird, a compendium of where culture, tech and creativity come together in the most beautifully mad ways.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this.

One is because it’s awesome.

Another is because there’s stuff going on in the shadows that deserves a much bigger audience.

But thirdly, it’s because too many agencies still fail to understand technology is a tool of creativity and in the right hands, it allows creativity to be expressed and wielded in ways traditional creativity could only dream of.

This is certainly not meant to discredit the traditional craft of communication – of course not, that can be utterly amazing in the right hands – but the reality is there are incredible possibilities when creativity is allowed to thrive outside the usual boundaries of adland and we want to celebrate those doing it … regardless of the scale, regardless if it fails and regardless if they’re just doing it for themselves.

WorldWideWeird will come out every month, but there’s an instagram that will be updated more regularly with any weird and wonderful that catches our eye … and as Amelia is the editor of it, rather than me, you can be sure it will actually be worth reading.

I’m excited what this could do … because my hope is it won’t be just be a place where people go for dinner party fodder, but a place that both inspires and scares people to get off their arses and start pushing the boundaries of what creativity can be … because frankly, as much as I love a lot of the stuff we as an industry put out there, I get quite annoyed when agencies are credited for innovation when all they’ve really done is slightly adjust the way they make the thing they’ve always made.

Sure, there is an argument that is innovative but for me, innovation is when you do something fundamentally different … try something utterly new … fail while attempting to do something groundbreaking … and I for one would like the industry to be more associated with that than simply reframing tradition with fancy PR.

That said, today is the end of my probation period at R/GA … so depending on how my review goes, World Wide Weird might be my swansong and Amelia’s platform for even greater glory.

You can subscribe to World Wide Weird here.

Our instagram can be found here.



What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.



Don’t Blame The Insight, Blame The Person Claiming It …

So a few weeks ago, the very lovely Neil – of Only Dead Fish fame – invited me to talk at Google Firestarters on insights.

This is a subject I’ve written and talked about for years, so it was right up my alley … and yet, despite that, I ended up writing a presentation where the underlying insight appears to be, ‘don’t ask Rob to write presentations on insights’.

For reasons I’m unsure of [though I think ‘fill this blog with something before the end of the year’] I thought it might be good to put it up here for others to look at/abuse. However, as it’s my usual ‘picture, no words’ presentation style, it probably will make little sense … but if it’s any consolation, that’s how the people who heard me give it, thought too.

If you want the general theme of the deck, it’s insights are important because culture is important … and if you know how the culture around categories think, act, operate and interact, then you have information that not only lets you create work that feels born from inside the culture, but can open doors to new possibilities.

Oh, and the bit about the Titanic is that I’m amazed this discussion is still going on because we all know insights matter, it’s where we’re getting them from and how we’re using them that is key. And yet – as an industry – we like to debate the things that we know matter and ignore the fact the majority of the work that’s being put out is an exercise in how to bore the fuck out of everyone with insanely and inanely rational communication.

And yes, I blame clients as much as planners and agencies for this.

It’s like they have forgotten that no one cares about what they care about and the job is to make them give a damn – and the most powerful way to do that is to use creativity in wonderfully mad and chaotic ways because [as Mr Weigel says, both in public and in my presentation] you can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck.

The Henry Ford slag off is simply that he is well known for saying that if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d say a faster horse and my point is, if someone said that, any half decent planner should be able to workout they’re trying to say they want to get from point A to point B quicker than they currently are able.

And if that isn’t an amazing brief, then I don’t know what is.

Anyway, if you want to see the deck, including one of my favorite ever slides – the pic at the top of this post – click here: Firestarters

Enjoy … if that is the right word. Ahem.



Identity Is Defined By Us Or Defined By Others …

So finally we have the feedback on the latest APSOTW assignment.

First of all I owe everyone an apology.

This has taken way longer than it was supposed to.

I’d like to blame the time it took to get the judges feedback, but I can’t … because it was all down to me.

Of course I can point you to moving to a new country, finding a new house and starting a new job, but that’s still pretty pathetic even though it’s true.

So this submission got the most that I think we have ever had.

This is brilliant and I’m so glad so many people decided to have a go.

Of course, part of that is because it seemed relatively simple, but as you’ll read from the feedback below – you’ll soon learn it wasn’t.

But that aside, the fact you had a go is something to be celebrated.

It means you wanted to get better … put yourself out there … try something that makes you vulnerable and for that I say a huge congratulations.

I meet too many people who think that because they have a job, they have ‘graduated’.

The thing is, this job is one that is always developing because people are changing … so actively wanting to improve is something that should be celebrated and for that I – and all the judges – applaud you.

So as we had so, so many entries, we are going to find it almost impossible to write a review on every one. If you want specific feedback on your submission, drop me an email [on the same address as the assignment submission] and I’ll get back to you.

[Promise it will be quicker than this feedback has taken]

As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of people thought this was an easy task … the reality is it wasn’t.

In fact, in some regards, I would say this was one of the toughest assignments we had set over the 10+ years APSOTW has been going.

In truth, post-rationalising is always a very difficult – if not impossible – task.

We tend to focus on the obvious elements when in truth, so much of the work we make is shaped by smaller little tweaks.

Not only that, but narrowing an issue as complex as this into a single sentence is always going to be super hard … so hard, that some of you went over the limit.

But the really interesting about this assignment is how many people basically wrote a headline for the campaign rather than an insight that could allow other work to be developed from it.

For example there were a lot of submissions that talked about ‘mirrors’.

Now I get why – because the execution focuses on that – but this wasn’t about mirrors or reflections, it was about identity and how you define yourself or let others define you.

In essence, you let the execution get in the way of your point of view.

Overall, the submissions tended to fall into one of four different groups:

1 A headline that summed up the execution. Not the idea behind the execution. The execution.

2 A fortune cookie/pseudo Confucius-style statement about being a man. Any man. Or skin.

3 A smart – but generalist – insight how men define themselves in the World today.

4 An overly complex description of how culture is formed which just felt like an attempt to show how smart you were.

Now don’t get despondent with that list of crimes, I see highly paid planners do it all the time.

The irony is our job is to make the complex simple, not make things even more difficult and yet time and time again the discipline tends to forget this.

If you want proof, just read 90% of effectiveness award submissions where the ‘insight’ is about half a page long.

ARGH.

But back to this …

When looking through the submissions, the judges agreed that to catch our eye, an entry had to have 3 things.

+ Recognition of the cultural tension underpinning the campaign. [This is about black culture, a lot of the statements could have been about anyone coming of age, so to speak]

+ A clear and concise point of view that makes us look at the potential of the idea in a bigger – or different – way.

+ The ability to provoke a reaction … whether that would be with creatives, clients or culture as a whole.

Sadly, we didn’t find that many that did, however there were some that caught our eye.

Divyanshu Bhadoria:
“More than a grooming regimen, shaving is a ritual to preserve the story of our identity”.

Wayne Green: :
“Don’t let a beard hide your pride of who you are and where you are from”.

Andy Wilson:
“Shaving reveals the dignity that is embedded in your skin”.

If truth be told, they could all probably be sharper … but not only did they all capture the tension between identity and conformity and the role shaving has in it, they were favoured by the creative judges as points of view that made them excited about looking at a category in a new way, but a true way.

And that was the point of the task … to take something and capture it’s essence in a way that would provoke a tighter – yet bigger – idea to come to the fore.

It’s tough … it’s very fucking tough … and as I said in the assignment, it’s all pretty subjective, but the judges were weirdly pretty much all in alignment from the beginning, which is why we got to our decision.

So a huge thank you to everyone for taking part.

I hope, after reading the feedback, if you look back at your entry you will see where you could have improved it.

As I said, if you want specific feedback on your entry, send me a mail and if Wayne, Andy and Divyanshu could send me their addresses, I’ll be sending a small prize to you as acknowledgement of your work.

Hopefully this has been a fun and useful exercise. Whatever the feedback, the fact you did it is important … to you, to us and to the industry at large … so I hope you will continue when the next APSOTW assignment comes out early in the new year.

A special thanks to the wonderful Maya Thompson who brought this assignment to me and changed the way I will look at the world forever [in collaboration with her collective of Chelsea and Bree] and a big happy holidays/new year etc etc to all of you who took part. [God, that feels weird to write in only November]

Till next time …



Every Detail Matters …

So I’ve not been sacked – yet – which means I feel confident enough to write another post for the week.

About a month ago, as I was flying to LA from Hong Kong, I re-watched the Michael Mann classic, Heat.

Making a movie – like making communication – consists of many elements.

Sure, you need a great story and you need great actors who can bring that story to life … but what really elevates the work to something special is a passion for the details.

Or said another way, the craft of craft.

In simple terms, this means the person heading the project doesn’t just appreciate what they don’t know, but they trust the people around them, who do.

They create the time and space for the broader team to do their best work on their areas of expertise. Encouraging debate and discussion to explore how each member of the team believe they can enhance the goal of the project to even bigger and more exciting places.

I think Heat is an example of this.

While Michael Mann wrote and directed the film, he allowed his expert team to be experts … ensuring every scene was as powerful or as believable as it can be.

There are many things I could highlight …

From allowing De Niro and Pacino to ad-lib their cafe scene because he trusted their talent to make the moment something unique right through to making sure the way the actors left the bank [after they robbed it] mirrored how trained soldiers would leave such a building.

[Apparently that scene is still used by many military organizations as a way to train their soldiers on how to leave a building]

But while those things are good, if you really want to see craft in action – and understand the impact it can have on the final product – then rewatch HEAT and marvel at the sound design of the main gun fight … because despite the movie being over TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD, it still stands out for all its majestic power and still continues to make the viewer feel like they’re actually in the scene.

Details matter.

Talent matters.

Craft matters.



See The World From Another Persons Eyes … [APSOTW Assignment]

I know I said there’d be no blog posts till October because I’m busy moving countries [again]. but I thought I could use this ‘empty’ time to set a new APSOTW assignment.

Over the years we have covered all manner of subjects … from validating flag design to pitching new business to developing comms strategy to creating solutions to difficult problems.

But this time we’re going to do something different.

To be honest, it’s less about being evaluated on how you present your thinking and more an exercise on thinking.

Now the thing with thinking – especially thinking where advertising and creativity is concerned – is it rarely can be wrong.

Sure, people can have all manner of opinions on what you think… but it generally can’t be viewed as being fundamentally right or fundamentally wrong.

This is liberating – or should be – which is why I’m hoping as many people as possible will have a go at this assignment.

The actual deliverable is easy.

All you have to do is watch the below clip and tell me– based on what people are saying in the clip – what you think the brand could have said to make their audience care about shaving.

That’s right, all you have to do to take part in this assignment is watch a short film and then send me a single sentence.

That’s it. Easy eh?

OK, I’m not going to deny this is harder than it may first seem.

Part of that is because the clip is about African American men … so to succeed, you have to appreciate the context how African American men live in America.

The other challenge is you need to get your point of view into a single sentence.

That might sound super easy until you remember that single sentence has to also capture the context that makes your point of view so powerful.

[For a clue on how this could be done, click here … even though this example isn’t quite right as it’s based on having lots of additional information, which this challenge does not allow]

The reason for this challenge is 3 fold.

1. It will help your skills in reading subtext.
2. It will help you ability to write a provocative point of view.
3. It will help you make audiences want, or imagine, more from themselves.

As I said at the beginning, there’s probably no wrong answer to this assignment, but to win [and there will be a prize] you’ll need to see something in the conversations within the clip that you feel opens the door to a bigger, more intriguing, more exciting, more resonant point of view for the brand.

This is not about inventing something that isn’t there … this is about seeing something that is, but hidden in plain sight.

While the ultimate deliverable for this assignment is easy, your submission will be judged by some of the toughest, most experienced, most culturally authentic experts in their field, including – if I can convince him to publicly associate with me again – Jason White, the Global CMO of Beats.

So have a go, it will be fun and all you need to do is send me a SINGLE SENTENCE by September 30th to this address.

As I’ve said before, I believe the future of our industry will be built on developing ideas that are resonant with culture rather than trying to be relevant to them and hopefully this will help make that happen.

If you have any questions, please place them in the comments. Thank you.