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


Let’s Remember Creativity Can Be Much Bigger Than Making Ads …

Back in December, R/GA launched a piece of work that I genuinely love.

I love it for so many reasons.

It’s solving a problem.

It’s doing it in lateral, not literal ways.

It was expressed with craft, care and a point of view.

It went beyond the usual forms of communication, showing how creativity can push minds and possibilities.

I cannot tell you how happy this makes me.

Almost makes me feel positive and optimistic.

Now that is real creative effectiveness.

Enjoy.



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.



Sometimes Quiet Is The Most Powerful …

Well I’m back.

The good news is it’s already the last day of the first full week back at work.

How good is that?

Well it’s probably too good, so let’s end it on a low.

I mean high.

I mean … oh who cares …

One of the things I’ve loved about British comedy is their ability to be utterly poignant.

I’ve written about this before but recently I was reminded of a scene in the last season of Blackadder that really got to me.

It’s from Blackadder Goes Forth … the series about WW1 … and it’s the final scene of the final show, as they are about to climb over the safety of their bunker to face certain death.

It’s not exactly the sort of scene you would expect in a comedy, and it’s not played for laughs, instead it captures the honor and bravery of the men and women who gave their lives for others wellbeing.

But as the scene ends, it crossfades to something else … something that both captures the tragedy of war, the futility of war and the sadness of war. It’s quite an amazing scene – especially given it’s quiet simplicity – and yet it works, which is even more remarkable given it was never in the script.

Originally the final scene was going to show the cast being gunned down and end – as previous seasons had – with their deaths, but a combination of factors meant the footage they took was so bad that it was almost unusable.

Without much time before the show had to be aired, they came up with an idea that didn’t require a rewrite or even new footage and yet it became one of the most famous and powerful conclusions to any show in British history.

As I have said before, sometimes the most powerful moments of creativity are born from adversity but when you know what you want to communicate, the reward can be something quite magical. Different … but maybe even more magical.



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.



Uncommon …

A few weeks ago, I met Nils Leonard, one of the founders of Uncommon.

While I had definitely encountered his agencies work before, I had not encountered him.

I wish I hadn’t.

Not because he’s an arrogant dick.

Not because he cares more about money than creativity.

Not even because he has let all his success go to his head.

But because he’s good.

As in really good.

Not just in his talent – which is obvious – but as a person.

He’s a charming, smart, funny and – wonderfully – self depreciating.

He has built, arguably, the most exciting agency in London right now and yet the prick is still generous, open, passionate and welcoming.

I have achieved 0.2% of what he has and I’m a miserable, egotistical dick …

Hell, even my partner-in-crime, Mr Weigel, fell under Nils spell … which means he’s either a witch, a hypnotist or just one of those absolutely talented wankers who you are genuinely happy for the success they are achieving because they’re building and earning it the right way.

With the work.

That said, I’ve heard there are some in the industry who hate him.

As in really, really hate him.

I can only assume they’re jealous about what he [and Lucy and Natalie] have created and are creating and – more importantly – how they’re actually going about doing it …

I don’t blame them, I want to hate him too … and while I could focus on the fact his laugh is a bit like David Brent’s and I’m not as keen on their Guardian work as most of their other stuff [though, to be fair, it’s more the line than the work]… the fact is, there are people you meet in this life – and I’ve been fortunate to have met and worked with a few – where you realise all their achievements aren’t because they’re political, self-publisiising, manipulative, ego-driven, cold and calulated assholes, but because they’re extremely talented and hard-working in a way that means they were always destined to exist at a different altitude to the rest of us.

No wonder he called them Uncommon.

Bastard.



Anything Is Easy If You Don’t Want It To Last

I am unashamedly a believer in brand.

I know there is a huge amount of talk about its commercial value, but – like the talk about whether we need ‘insights’ – there is plenty of evidence to suggest it continues to drive companies growth and revenue.

And while there are accademics, like Byron Sharp, who have proven people are far less loyal than they claim, the fact remains that loyalty – whether emotional or transactional – has significant value in building sustainable success for a brand.

But here’s the thing many brand owners forget.

To stand any chance of loyalty from your audience you need to be loyal to them.

Continuously.

It’s not good enough to simply offer discounts and early access.

Sure, that can help, but audiences know exactly why you’re doing it.

Real loyalty – by which I mean there is an almost irrational connection to a brand – is born from brands acting in ways that prove why people should care and keep believing in you.

Behaviour not just words.

Progress over the comfort of repetition.

Authenticity not just chasing popularity.

Telling beautiful stories not just spouting facts or contrived ‘ads’.

As I said, there are some marketers who say none of this matters in a world where digital enables them to have ‘direct to consumer’ relationships at a fraction of the cost of brand building.

I get it. It’s quick and it can be powerful which explains why every day there seems to be a new company claiming it will disrupt the category.

But where they go wrong is not realising disruption without distinction [ie: brand building] doesn’t create long term sustainable value, it just creates new commoditization.

In such an extremely competitive, highly-pressured, fast moving world, I would argue that brand has never been so important to stand a chance of having a stronger future.

And while this might all sound hypocritical given I work for a company who is trying to invent the future of marketing – which includes building new ways to have D2C relationships for clients, finding new ways to interact with subcultures through digital and passionately believes in disrupting categories – the fact is we never do this without an obsessive focus on the authenticity of the brand and how we can help it create the future culture wants to follow rather than just exploiting the offers of the present.

For me, the real issue is we are seeing is companies wanting all the good bits of brand loyalty without much of the effort, for which I leave them with this story I heard when living in China.

The 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.



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.