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

Weigel Isn’t Bad …

Martin Weigel.

The professor.

The planners planner.

The miserable bastard that never returns your emails.

Well he might be all of those things, but to me, he’s my mate.

What’s more, I think I’m his mate too – which means he’s not nearly as clever as everyone thinks he is.

But the reality is, he has his place as one of the best because he is. That simple.

Not just because he’s as smart as shit … but underpinning his intellectual ramblings are very simple, but powerful, beliefs that benefit everyone he is interacting with.

I say this because I recently heard his answer to the question, ‘What should a planner do and care about?’ to which he responded with this …

That’s it.

4 lines.

But those 4 lines cover so much.

Vision. Creativity [Not advertising]. Innovation. Cultural Resonance. Ambition. Action. Focus.

In other words, strategy that is designed to liberate rather than play nicely with others.

It’s what makes him so good and the work he does so great.

I should hate him, but I can’t …

And it’s not just because I bloody love his bloody lovely other half.

The reason I say this is that one of the things I’ve been shocked about in America is the standard of planning.

There … I’ve said it.

No, it’s not because I’m a snobby Brit.

No, it’s not because I don’t understand the cultural differences.

It’s because a lot of it is bad.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what is out there and in many cases it’s either strategy that the individual has used for pretty much every client they’ve worked on regardless of the situation, or at worst, it’s a snappy worded version of the client brief.

Or just bad taglines that say nothing and mean nothing.

In other words, packaging rather than planning.

Now of course there are some epic planners here – I am fortunate to have a bunch who work with me and there’s a bunch who I wish would work with me – but there has been a bunch who I’ve met/spoken to who have just underwhelmed.

I recently met one who said their main approach to strategy was ‘owning the social platform’.

I had to ask 3 times if I had heard right, and I had.

And when I said they weren’t the sort of planner I wanted in my team, he said I didn’t know what I was doing.

OK, there’s probably more than an element of truth in that, but even my worst planner skills is better than that.

And yet this individual was a senior planner in a good agency.

In other words, he was responsible for helping brands decide the direction they were going to invest millions of dollars in.


The World has gone mad.

There is a craft to planning.

You can’t outsource it all to data and media.

Of course those people have a place – and an important one at that – but the hard work is still done by those who realize it’s not about the ad, but the direction, tension and opportunity for the brand and culture.

The one’s who can think of ideas that aren’t really just an executional idea.

Which is why we need more Weigel’s than Gary V’s.

Because flash means nothing if it doesn’t address what I now call, Weigel’s ‘Four Principals Of Worthiness’.


The Beauty Of Madness …

Last week, Nike dropped an ad.

A 3+ minute ad.


Well yes they are because it’s the most magical 3+ minute ad you will see in a long, long time.

I know you might say I’m biased because [1] it’s Nike [2] it’s by Wieden and [3] my beloved ex-collegue, Paula Bloodworth, worked on it … but I’m not saying it for those reasons, I’m saying it because it’s sheer gloriousness.


You watch it and you are sucked in. You’re smiling, laughing, nodding, relating.

Whether it’s how outsiders see different parts of London to the madness some young athletes have to go through to be noticed.

There’s so much to love about it … though I have to say my favorite parts are definitely the female footballer, the ice-hockey player and the guy at the end on the bike who swipes the ball away.

Brilliant casting, writing, everything.

An ad that shows how great advertising can be when it’s injected with madness, authenticity and originality. Not to mention fun. Not in terms of what the ad is – though it’s full of that – but in terms of feeling how much fun everyone had making it.

An ad that not only shows the elasticity of NIKE’s brand voice, but their ability to be culturally authentic while staying true to who the brand actually is.

Right there is why Wieden is so fucking good.

It’s not just that they’ve made an ad people around the World will love – even if they won’t understand it all – it’s that they’ve made an ad that people in London will truly get.

An ad that is for them.

About them.

Bursting with all the swagger, humour and contrast that makes that city what it is.

I’m sure they knew they had something special at the very beginning but when it started actually coming together, they must have got super excited.

And nervous.

I remember going through all those emotions when we were creating Blackcurrant Tango.

But as I’ve said before, the best feeling in adland is when you think a piece of your work is going to be either amazing or a disaster

Nothing in-between.

Because it means whatever happens, it’s going to make a statement.

And this ad does.

Without doubt it is my favorite NIKE spot in a while [acknowledging a huge amount of them of late have been extra good] and I’m so happy for all my friends who were a part of it.

In fact the only thing wrong is when they say ‘Nothing Beats A Londoner’ when we all know a Nottinghamer can.


Some People Never Learn Their Lesson …

Way back in 2008, the lovely people at PSFK invited me to speak at their Asia conference in Singapore.

While I had a lot of fun doing it, you’d think they would have quickly realised never to invite me to do anything again.

Well they managed to hold off for 10 whole years, but the lovely mad fools decided to ask me to do something again.

OK, so it’s writing an article on the Super Bowl rather than actually showing my face to a member of the paying public, but it’s still an alarming lack of judgement on their part.

For which I am truly proud.

Given how much rubbish there was out there, I could have written miles and miles of abuse, but the folks at PSFK were smart by limiting me to about 800 words, though that didn’t stop me writing a paragraph questioning why Queen would sell the use of their song ‘We Will Rock You’ to RAM Trucks.

Fortunately for you, they edited that bit out.

Unfortunately for you, they left the rest in.


So to those of you who can’t be arsed to click on this link, here’s the post.

In addition to being the pinnacle of American football, the Super Bowl is also one of the pinnacles for the ad industry. A chance for us to remind everyone what we can do. So with that, I’m going to write about three pieces of work I thought celebrated the highs of ad-land and three pieces that will require me to spend the next 11 months in therapy.

Before I start, I should say:

+ I’m cynical and British so I’m not the best person to write this.
+ I acknowledge it’s hard to make a Super Bowl spot that stands out for good reasons.
+ All ads require a lot of people to work very hard so when it goes bad, there’s a bunch of reasons for it and I assure you they’re all as disappointed as you. Or they should be.

Let’s start with what I think pushes the ad industry forward:

TIDE: It’s A Tide Ad

Thank you for being self-aware enough to acknowledge you simply make clothes clean.

And for doing it in a way that doesn’t just highlight the clichés of ‘the Super Bowl ad,’ but kinda-hijacks and owns all the ads that run after your spot.

For me, you won the Super Bowl.

AMAZON: Alexa Loses Her Voice

No one really needs reminding about Alexa do they? But hey, at least they had fun doing it and poked fun at themselves. Jeff Bezos might be a genius in many things, but no actor is going to worry his acting chops are going to take their job. Except, maybe, Keanu Reeves.


Let me be clear, I did not like this ad. At all. I felt it was contrived and patting itself on the back.

But the idea behind it—using their cans to distribute water to those in need—is very good and something they’ve apparently been doing since 1988.

It resonated with me more than the Stella Artois/Matt Damon spot, which has a similar goal, because not only has Bud been doing it without fanfare for a long time, it required them to do something beyond handing over a check.

I know I look a dick criticizing anyone who wants to help those in need but, like the Hyundai spot, you end up wondering if Stella is doing it because they genuinely want to help people or needed a platform to attract more drinkers.

It shouldn’t matter as people are being helped but it feels exploitative, which is why Bud wins the ‘social cause’ category of Super Bowl for me.


Now for the ones I feel holding us back. Seriously, this was hard because there were tons of them. But some reached a lower bar than others, so with that…

MONSTER: You Deserve Better

What do you do if you’re a guitarist in Aerosmith and your singer is too busy making bad Super Bowl ads [this year, it’s Kia] to make a new album? You have a go too.

Joe Perry shouldn’t have bothered. Not just because his appearance is ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ short, nor because 99.76% of the overtly Gen-Z target audience wouldn’t know who the hell he is… but because the premise of the ad (in-ear headphones are crap) is about five years too late.

The ad ends with the line, “You Deserve Better.” They’re right, Joe does.

JACK IN THE BOX: Jack vs. Martha

There used to be an agency called Cliff Freeman. I loved them and tried to get a job there over and over again, but it never happened.

Part of the reason was because of their Jack In The Box work, which was genuinely mischievous, funny and memorable as hell.

This is none of those things. It’s not terrible—there were worse—but compared to their heyday with Cliff Freeman, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

NFL: Dirty Dancing Spoof

NFL players re-make the pivotal dance scene from the movie Dirty Dancing before a line appears that says, “To all the touchdowns to come.” I rest my case.


I know I said three, but there’s one more I have to give an honorable mention to: that Scientology thing.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find a religion that runs a Super Bowl ad trying to attract members rather than use the cash to try and help those in need very, very strange. Even Stella Artois is trying to help the needy so maybe I’ll follow them instead.

Given the Super Bowl is such a momentous event—where the traditional rules of advertising arguably, can be broken—it’s just a shame that we continue to see the same three approaches each and every year.

I’m not saying funny celebrities, true Americana and/or political commentary don’t work, but if we’re going to show how our industry really understands how to connect with culture, it might be nice if we didn’t approach every year by producing a stream of 30 to 60-second TV ads when we have the technology and brains to develop ideas that can affect how millions behave, literally, as they’re watching the game.

Silent Sexism …

I need to rant.

You see I’m totally fucking over subtle sexism.

Don’t get me wrong, I am over overt sexism as well, but this subtle shit is doing my head in – especially in ads.

On face value, it’s nothing.

It almost feels normal in fact.

But when you stop for a second, you see the little digs.

The references to women loving shoes.

Or the colour pink.

Or some other cliched, sexist bullshit … like doing anything for doughnuts.

Oh they’ll say it’s “all in good fun”.

Or “… it’s not meant to be real, it’s advertising”.

They’ll claim you’re being too sensitive or that you “can’t say anything these days”.

Implying there was absolutely no other way they could approach the task they were given.

As if we’re bloody idiots.

And while some simply don’t get it – having spent their life living in the bubble of another era – deep down they know.

Or at least suspect.

The reality is they just don’t want to admit it.

Even if that’s just to themselves.

So they say this shit. Write this shit. Produce this shit.

And many will let it pass.

Mainly because they’re not paying close attention to the ads.

But it still seeps in.

Leaving it’s message.

Not the one the client wanted, but the one the old, conformist, sexist guys did.

And that’s why I think it’s the most dangerous sexism of all because when it’s done quietly, it affects slowly … creeping into the ears, eyes and minds of those who are exposed to it, while those who are aware of this shit, hear it like a scream.

It Seems I Am The Fine Line Between Famous And Infamous …

How is your 2018 going so far?

I know it’s still early days – but is it looking good or bad?

Well, if it’s looking positive, I’m about to ruin it for you and if it is looking dodgy, I’m going to help you solidify your opinion.


Well, a few weeks ago, a nice guy called Paul McEnany asked if he could interview me about my career.

While I’m sure his reasoning for his request was to help planners learn what not to do, my ego said yes even before my mouth did … and while the end result is the bastard love child of rambling randomness and base-level swearing, it’s the perfect way to justify your pessimism for 2018 or to ensure your optimism for the new year doesn’t get too high.

So go here and errrrrm, enjoy [if that’s the right word for it, which it isn’t] and after you’ve heard my crap, listen to the brilliant interviews with people like Gareth Kay, Russell Davies, Richard Huntingdon, Martin Weigel and the amazing Chris Riley because apart from being hugely interesting and inspiring, you’ll get the added bonus of [1] undeniable proof I’m a massive imposter and [2] the knowledge that if I can have some sort of semi-successful career in advertising, you certainly can.

You’re welcome.

If You Give An Inch, They’ll Take A Mile …

I’ve written a lot about clients who go to agencies and then tell them what they need.

Or – as the brilliant George once said – go to the doctors and prescribe their own medicine.

Well recently I saw a photo from the MD of 72 Amsterdam – the brilliant, beardy and cat-loving, Nicolas Owen – that I think deals with the issue in the best way I’ve seen …

Now I appreciate that in the ‘real World’, most companies who offered this sort of pricing structure would cave in to the pressure of a potential paying client but the thing is, the moment they do, they’re not just losing cash, they’re literally devaluing themselves.

That might sound dramatic, but it’s true.

As many of you know, I’m doing some work with a rather famous rock band.

During the conversations, I asked their managers how they made so much money from consulting for other bands.

They said, “They’re not paying us for our time, they’re paying us for our 30 years of experience and knowledge”.

OK, so they truly are pioneers in their field … but that confidence in their abilities and value made such a big impression on me.

It shouldn’t as I’ve written about this a ton of times [like here and here for example] but when you look at how we – in the communication industry – handle ‘negotiations’, it seems our starting point is fear rather than confidence, which puts us behind before we’ve even started.

Of course, part of that might be because we know another agency would sell their grandmother to make a dollar, but then the question is why would we want a client who so obviously devalues what we do?

Now to be fair, our industry is great at undermining ourselves.

From scam at Cannes to charging more for process than creativity … so much of what we do sends a signal to clients that we are a servants rather than experts, which is why I like the image from Nicolas so much, because at least they seem to understand that if they’re going to get dictated to, they’re going to make more money from it. At least in theory.

There’s a reason Wieden, Droga etc charge a higher premium than most agencies, because they value the work.

Maybe it’s time the whole industry did that too …

Creativity Without Bruises And Scars Is Not Great Creativity …

A while back – when I was running The Kennedys – I told the guys about how hard it is to make great work.

Ironically, the issue was less about the expression of creativity – though there is always difficulties in that – but in actually getting your precious idea through all the gatekeepers/processes/people without it being impeded, diluted or impacted.

Now don’t get me wrong, being pushed to be better is always good, but it appears we now live in times where the goal of others seems to be the reverse.



Ego/Career management.

Or as my dear friend George once said:

“Creativity today is a client going to the doctor, telling them their expertise is wrong and then prescribing their own medicine.”

Of course people are entitled to their opinion.

Of course ad industry creativity needs to be commercial creativity.

But right now, it appears many clients version of ‘commercial’ is to either communicate what they want people to care about [regardless if they care about it, or believe it] or to say things where absolutely no one can ever be offended because what they want to communicate makes beige look bold.

And because adland – or should I say some within adland – has sold the value of creativity down the river in favour of making fees from process and production, the entire industries ‘creativity’ is being called into question.

What has happened to wanting to make work that makes culture take notice?

What has happened to wanting to making work others wished they had made?

What has happened to wanting to make work that changes entire categories?

Yes, I know there are some that still fly the flag of great work – but not many and not always consistently – and what’s worse is that we, as an industry, have contributed to this situation but what really gets to me … what really pisses me off … is that I feel we are continuing to pander to the wishes and demands of the organisations we are supposed to help, the organisations who – for whatever reason – are undermining our industries value and long-term future.

I’m not saying we should be arrogant.

Or rude.

Or forget why clients hire us.

But come on, why be a doctor when we let the patient diagnose themselves, which is why I absolutely loved this piece by the phenomenal Dave Trott.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote about how I had taught The Kennedy’s that great creativity doesn’t come without bruises and scars … well, if we still want to stand a chance of making the work that shows how brilliant we can be, then we better be prepared to fight harder for it, because being the punching bag is hurting everyone … us, our clients, our audiences.