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

Little Things Make The Difference …

In Asia, hand cleanliness is almost an obsession.

People even eat their sandwiches and burgers with knives and forks to avoid having to pick them up.

OK, so maybe that’s the case everywhere and I’m just showing my common Nottingham roots … but I still find it fascinating.

Everywhere you go, there’s hand sanitisers.

I’m not just talking in hospitals, I’m talking restaurants and all sorts of other places.

Recently, I saw this on my wife’s bag.

Yep, it’s a portable hand sanitiser.

But I’m not saying this because it highlights how long we’ve been in Asia, I’m saying it because making a product that can attach easily to a bag is an act of simple genius.

For a culture that doesn’t want to just wash their hands, but have them truly germ free … this little idea has big appeal.

Sure, there’s other products on the market that do a similar thing, but having something that attaches to your bag gives a peace of mind that wipes hidden in your bag, just can’t do. Plus being permanently on display helps advertise the brand to all who see it. Nice.

I’ve said for a while that I feel designers are doing things in more interesting ways than ad agencies and ultimately that’s down to one simple difference of approach.

Designers want to solve problems whereas ad agencies want to communicate problems.

Not all agencies are like this.

Not all agency employees are like this.

But right now, the design industry is kicking our ass and I swear it’s because we are holding on to remuneration models that reward ‘the old ways’ rather than finding ways to get paid for what we are truly capable of if given the freedom to do it.

[That and the fact adlands creative department hiring policy is still primarily based on art and copy rather than embracing different types of creative people/thinkers/doers]

We will have to wake up soon, otherwise the bullshit we churn out for Cannes – that we claim is ‘creative problem solving’ will become the benchmark for our standards and when that happens, we may as well pack up and go home.

But I have faith it can be done, if only because I saw The Kennedys Shanghai consistently solve problems in imaginative and innovative and intriguing ways for 9 months.

Sometimes The Audience Finds You …

So I recently read an article on the UK distributors of Danish store, Tiger.

Tiger is often referred to as ‘Posh Poundland’ as it sells all manner of stuff.

Anyway, in 2005, a husband and wife – with no business experience whatsoever – decided to pour all the money they had into buying the rights for the brand in the UK.

They openly admit it was very difficult and they made many mistakes but 11 years later, they sold it for an estimated 40+ million pounds.

So far so good, but what really interested me was something they said at the end of the interview …

How brilliant is that.

It’s also a great lesson in thinking about your audience.

Too often, our industry defines audiences by the segment we believe are the most likely to want to buy our brand/product.

While that makes perfect sense, the problem is we are often end up being pretty generalistic in who we define our audience to be … often because our clients are petrified of putting limitations on their sales potential. The other problem with this broad audience approach is that it tends to end up being the audience for the whole category, which means we end up pitting ourselves directly against our competition.

What I love about this Tiger example is – albeit by lucky accident – they realised their was a very specific segment who were attracted to this product. A segment that liked it for reasons beyond what was expected, and yet was something that actively drove them to buy.

Now I admit it takes balls to do this.

It also takes absolute honesty.

And confidence.

But when defining audiences, it’s always worth remembering the motivations for purchase are often very different to what we would like to think they are. Of course we know this, but when in front of a client, it’s amazing how often we either temporarily forget or simply choose to ignore.

By being absolutely open to who could/should be interested in our clients brands, we not only stand the chance of making work that truly resonates with a particular segment, but one that automatically differentiates you from the countless competitors all trying to steal your share, which is why I still love the V&A London museum ad from the 80’s, where Saatchi’s [in their absolute pomp] realised the thing people liked most about the place was the cafe, which led to them running ad’s with the bravest ‘endline’ you may ever see …

A Reminder That Expertise Doesn’t Mean Acceptance …


A fantastic camera brand with unquestionable credibility.

Now of course, many camera brands are under threat from the increasing quality – and convenience – of smartphone cameras, which is why many are trying to diversify their portfolio to counter any potential profit loss.

Based on this ad, it appears NIKON are trying to do this as well.

Of course, as we have seen from GOPRO and countless other brands … the ‘live action camera’ category has been growing at an incredible rate and while you could argue NIKON might be a bit late to the party, their credibility in cameras stands them in good stead.

Except it doesn’t.

You see what NIKON have failed to understand is that the ‘live action category’ is very different to the photographic category … sure, they both involve needing a lens to capture the action, but fundamentally the rules are different, the values are different and the culture around it are very different.

As I wrote here, GOPRO’s success is not just because they were one of the first to exploit this market, but because they were part of the culture that created this market.

They understood who these people were.

What they do.

What they want.

What they feel.

This knowledge influenced everything … from their positioning [the utterly brilliant, ‘Be A Hero’] through to the style of advertising they created.

The fact NIKON’s ad shows an image that comes from the perspective of watching others do something, highlights how they have failed to understand the audience they are talking too.

All they’ve done is transfer their photographic approach to their communication … but the audience they need to engage have a totally different set of values and aspirations.

Of course it would be hard for them to achieve this given GOPRO have already nailed it with their ‘in the middle of the action‘ photographic style … but that’s the difference between a brand that looks at a category as a sales opportunity versus a brand that is born from the culture it plans to engage with.

As I’ve said many, many times … culture is far more important than category.

Don’t let anyone tell you different.


PS: Happy Australia Day … a day where you are not just legitimately allowed to get pissed before 10am, but positively encouraged to be. Have a top day. And a top hangover tomorrow.

Great Creativity Leaves Scars …

So a few weeks ago, I talked to The Kennedy’s about something that rarely gets talked about … and that is there’s times where the creative process feels like a battle.

Sometimes it feels like you’re fighting your colleagues … sometimes it feels like you’re fighting your clients … sometimes it feels like you’re fighting yourself … but here’s the thing, it’s absolutely OK to experience these things because in my experience, nothing great happens if there hasn’t been tension along the way.

Of course there’s a point where decisions and directions have to be made and everyone needs to unite behind an idea to make it sharper and push where it can go [which should happen once you’ve tried stuff rather than just talked about the theory of it] but the fact remains nothing worth doing can be achieved without some scars and frustrations along the way … so rather than hide from it, embrace it.

8 little things that can ensure it’s only a momentary battle, not a bloody war …

1. Focus on the idea not your ego.
2. Try things, don’t just talk about them.
3. Be passionate but never be personal.
4. Remember everyone wants the same thing.
5. Hear feedback as help, not attacks.
6. Listen before you speak.
7. Rally behind decisions.
8. You can tell when the work was fun to make.

It has taken me almost 30 years to learn these things, but the difference it makes is huge – both to your personal fulfilment and the work you get to be a part of.

Of course, for it to work, everyone needs to understand this and practice it* … but when they do, more often than not you come out of it with something you’re all excited and proud of, which is what it’s supposed to be and why this industry – when it’s good – is very good indeed.

Don’t worry, I won’t be writing any more semi-professional posts for at least 1000 years.


* It hopefully goes without saying that stuff like having a great brief, a great team and a fair amount of time to explore possibilities [etc etc] has already been accounted for.

Part 2: You Can’t Move Forward When You’re Looking Through The Rear View Mirror …

NOTE: As you know, I tend to pre-write my posts quite a bit in advance. I say this because when I wrote this, I was told the article I am basing my perspective on, would have come out. It hasn’t.

With that in mind, I’ve had to make a few changes to how this post was originally written by removing the name of the person I am responding to because I do not believe it is fair to quote them when their words have not yet gone into the public domain. Sorry.
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So yesterday I talked about how a global CCO of a global network agency and I were asked to write about how the advertising industry can attract creative talent.

You can read their perspective here.

Anyway, after they wrote his response, I was asked for mine.

I must admit, I found it hard because ‘response’ means you should directly respond to the point of view of the person before you and I felt that was unfair because regardless what I think they are doing – or his agency as a whole – I have to say it’s good they’re doing something.

However – and, as usual, it’s a big however – I do think they are putting a plaster on the issue rather than dealing with the issue directly.

This is not meant as a criticism of their work or their actions, but more a counter way of how we should be looking at dealing with the situation if we are serious about maintaining our relevance in both attracting creative talent and offering something clients can’t get elsewhere.

Anyway, this is what my response was …


Before I begin, I should point out there are still agencies and individuals who act as an inspiration for young creative talent to join our industry … however, it has been widely acknowledged that this is becoming harder to do, so this is my response to that challenge.

Advertising is the only industry that gives people business cards that labels the holder as ‘creative’. Musicians don’t call themselves that. Neither do authors. Or games designers. Why does adland feel it is necessary to say what someone is, rather than show what they do? Hell, why does adland think creativity only lives in those who work – or want to work – in the field of art and copy?

Of course there are many reasons for this – from remuneration to routine – however I also believe it’s because we’ve been slowly moving away from creativity to focusing on execution.

In other words, from thinking broadly to thinking narrow.

If people don’t fit into our tight definition of ‘what creativity is’, then we tend to view them as misfits … obstacles… people who block creative potential rather than have the skills to maybe bring original ways to solving clients problems.

Of course it’s not entirely adlands fault, clients have also contributed to this situation by placing ‘KPI’s’ on agencies that basically pushes them to hire people who will deliver exactly what they want, but the fact is that while I praise the CCO for what he is doing at his network – and acknowledge everything has to start somewhere – agency ‘programs’ will not fundamentally change the business until we do 2 things.

1. Change how we structure our remuneration because without that, the status quo will always beat committing to the new and different.

2. Change our attitude towards what ‘creativity’ actually is.

Is it any wonder young creative talent are questioning a career in advertising when the work they see us put out to the world hasn’t really evolved over the past 50 years?

That doesn’t mean the work we are doing is wrong – nor does it mean there has not been immense creativity, craft and purpose that has gone into it – but given so much of it doesn’t reflect the world young creative talent live and operate in, it’s hardly a surprise they aren’t inspired by it, compared to industries, like tech, fashion, music or a billion start-ups. [Who are perceived, probably rightly, to offer better money, potential, hours and glamour]

The fact is, creativity is not this narrow space we have pulled ourselves into and the fact we hold on to it so doggedly – both because a lot of clients ask for it and because it gives us a sense of control and security – is contributing to young creative talent turning their backs on a career in advertising.

So how do we change it?

Well, it’s easier said than done and – as I said – I applaud the CCO for what they are doing, but we need to change how we do what we do and how we charge for it.

In other words, blow the whole fucking thing up.

Sure, the industry can continue to make money doing what it’s doing, but whether it will be able to claim it is ‘creative’ is another thing altogether … and then we’ll be in an even worse situation.

I hate to say it, but we talk big but the reality is we often think quite small.

Worse, when we talk big, it’s often in terms of ‘ad’ ideas rather than ideas.

I still passionately believe ‘Square’ should have come from an agency. Or a bank.

Let’s face it, the situation it was addressing – small business finds cash flow difficult – was hardly some astounding revelation. But we didn’t, because it’s easier – and cheaper – to say we care rather than develop stuff that shows it … and then use communication to amplify our solution to the masses.

[I also acknowledge it could be because clients often don’t give us the chance to explore these possibilities, so it ends up being a chicken and egg situation]

For me, a great start for change would be if we got back to embracing broad, rather than narrow.

Open ourselves up to new thinking … change how we work … question our processes and systems … give people the time, support and encouragement to try stuff. Really try stuff. Not send them to some 2-day workshop but push them to push themselves. Help them invest in their own development and let them know they have a place where they are allowed to really try stuff. And fail.

I would personally stop our obsession with award entries and allocate some of that time – and resources – to developing mini businesses. Or new [commercially minded] products. Or anything that shows the best of our creative thinking, rather than the laziest.

Stuff that could generate awareness and prestige because they’re not focused just on the bubble of advertising, but culture.

I’ve always said that our biggest problem is thinking other agencies are our competitor.

They’re not.

We might not like to admit it, but Google, HBO and Facebook [to name a few] have impacted and influenced culture far more than we have.

We’ve absolutely helped with their success, but they’ve been the instigators of it … but it doesn’t have to be that way. Hell, it wasn’t always that way.

“But Rob …”, I hear you say, “… we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table”.

Yes … but that’s not just because of clients, it’s also because of us.

The fact is we’ve often been more interested in talking about what we’re interested in doing, rather than what the client is interested in achieving – and while we’ve all started talking more openly about the need to impact business – this has seemingly resulted in some agencies behaving in a way that’s made them indistinguishable from the clients they represent.

Some think this is a good idea – that it helps clients take us seriously – but for me, I’ve always found the best clients like ‘intelligent outsiders’, because we offer them something they don’t already know, something they don’t already have, something that can fundamentally help their business in ways they never imagined.

As the CCO said, things won’t change overnight and I am certainly not suggesting the industry should blindly try and attract ‘young creatives’ to like us – there’s a lot of stuff we’re great at that people will find important and valuable to know and learn – however I feel if we change our attitude and process towards what creativity is, it will start to point our industry us in a new direction … a place where the sun hasn’t already set … a place that young creative talent [in the broad sense of the word] will want to explore and learn from.

A place that is infectious again.

Then it’s up to us.

Just like changing the remuneration system.


I know … I know … but I told you yesterday these were going to be long posts.

Now I am in no way suggesting I have all the answers and I know the CCO isn’t either.

I also know there’s issues, as I touched on, like pay and working conditions that are also having a negative influence on attracting talent.

But what do you think?

What could work? What are we doing wrong?

Do you feel their view is more on the money or mine. Or neither of us.

Is anyone getting it right?

I don’t just mean attracting young talent, but actually doing something interesting and commercially valuable with them?

I’d love to hear your point of view, especially if you’re young and in advertising or young and anti-advertising, though I accept you probably haven’t even got to this point of the post because you fell asleep ages ago.


Part 1: You Can’t Move Forward When You’re Looking Through The Rear View Mirror …

NOTE: As you know, I tend to pre-write my posts quite a bit in advance. I say this because when I wrote this, I was told the article I am basing my perspective on, would have come out. It hasn’t.

With that in mind, I’ve had to make a few changes to this post – and the comments – to remove the name of the person I am responding to because it is not fair he is being quoted when his words have not yet gone into the public domain. Sorry.
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This is going to be a long post.

OK, I know all my posts are long, but this is going to be epically long.

It’s so long, I’m actually going to split it over 2 days. No, seriously.

Before you dismiss it, please read a little more, because I am hoping you’ll be a part of it … and I don’t mean in terms of just taking the piss out of me.

So a few months ago, I was asked to comment on a piece by a global Chief Creative Officer of a global network agency, on how the ad industry can attract young creative talent.

Today I’m going to post his perspective and tomorrow I’ll post my response.

It’s a serious and major issue so if you can find it in your hearts to actually respond to it seriously, I’d be grateful. Who am I kidding, since when has that ever made you do something?

OK, so this is how the CCO see’s the situation.


On my first day at my first job, my boss asked me if I had read any of a list of literary masterpieces: Slaughterhouse 5, Catch 22 and a host of others. I hadn’t. And a few days later, he presented me with a gift for my ignorance: a stack of more than a dozen classic novels that I had not yet read.

A bit later in my career, I met Bob Isherwood, the first global creative director I ever really had access to as a young creative at Saatchi. From Bob, I witnessed firsthand how one bold and determined mind could influence a global network. His confidence, his willingness to take on risks and his ability to think without limitations still inspire my management and creative philosophies today.

These were some of the earliest instances I can point to in my career of the meaningful impact a seasoned creative’s guidance, wisdom and open arms, ears and door can have on a young creative’s journey.

There are so many people who have helped me throughout my career and now as a slightly more “experienced” creative, I have the honorable and gratifying opportunity to pay it forward and be for young creatives the kind of mentor and guide I had at their age. It’s a responsibility I’ve been proud to take on throughout my career.

But a lot has changed since my days as a fledgling creative. The young creatives of today are not the young creatives of my day.

Our responsibility, as advertisers and as creative leaders who value great work, is to make sure we get the great people to make that work, but in the past few years, there has been endless chatter about advertising’s talent crisis. The industry’s most popular publications have sounded off with theories dissecting why the ad world is no longer attracting and retaining the young talent it used to.

It’s clear that despite the importance we place on phenomenal work and despite the pressure we put on ourselves and our teams to make work that is innovative, boundary-breaking and reflective of the times, we do not pursue young creative talent with the same ferocity. We have not reworked our recruitment processes to accommodate and cater to the needs of the modern young creative. Our search for the young creative is not nearly as imaginative as the work we expect them to create.

And that is a serious mistake.

Young talent should be pursued like an all-agency brief. This next generation of CCOs, ECDs and Senior Art Directors are the future of advertising and failing to nurture, support and engage this group means we are opting out of an essential investment in advertising’s future and a vital opportunity to have a hand in the direction of creative work in the industry.

Every day young talent finds it way to the Facebooks and Googles of the world, and if we want to win them back; we have to work for it. How can our industry remain viable in the coming years if we do not invest in the creative minds of the future?

I am lucky to work for an agency that is aggressive, innovative and progressive in the ways it pursues young creative talent.

In 2014, we answered the long-heard call for more female creative leadership in the industry with the launch of a scholarship scheme. The scholarship, designed to support young, aspiring female creatives around the world, awards five individual annual scholarships and gives recipients paid internship placements at our offices.

This year, we launched another program, a global internship geared towards finding and nurturing talent in the next generation of creative minds, giving young professionals from Hong Kong to São Paulo the chance to work in an active agency setting, work on live briefs and collaborate with our network of experienced and talented teams.

Another of our internal programs, is an inclusive program that gives every office and every employee the opportunity to develop and share creative solutions for a live brief. These briefs are unique because they are formed under the assumption and, quite honestly, the new modern reality that great creative ideas don’t just come from the copywriter and art director. It forces us to undo our understanding of the traditional creative team and, ultimately, allows us to give a chance to the young account manager who might not have ever had the opportunity to stretch his creative legs. It pushes us to find creative gems under new rocks; to look beyond the creative department for the next generation’s creative minds.

The Millennials that make up today’s creative talent pool are drawn to culture and they’re keen on working for brands that have a social purpose that makes them feel like they’re making a difference. We need our agencies to build this kind of culture because our competitors are. And Millennials who feel the need to move from one place to another to build their careers, need this type of culture to stay long-term.

Beyond the theories and hypothesizing, I believe every advertiser needs to address the following questions to unlock the ever elusive but highly coveted young creative talent.

How are we stacking up against the ever-growing and ever-compelling tech industry in the eyes of young talent?

How are we making ourselves competitive in a marketplace that places the youth at the center of their crosshairs?

How have we shifted our understanding and engagement young talent to accommodate the new reality?

We won’t solve this issue overnight. But we can’t sleep until we do.


What do you think?

Fair? Naive? Have you got any better suggestions?

Regardless, tomorrow you’ll see how I replied – whether you like it or not. Ha.

The Giving Back Before I Get Fired Post …

I don’t really write much about ads we – as in Wieden – do.

Not because I don’t like them, but because I like them too much.

Of course, there’s been the odd exception where I’ve not been able to stop myself – like one of my all time faves, Born of Fire for Chrysler at the Superbowl a few years back – but all in all, I tend to keep the work we do to myself.

Well, today that changes.

I’ll admit one of the reasons is because I literally don’t know what to write about today and this is my ‘get out of jail card’, but the other reason is there’s been a bunch of work from us recently that I think it just wonderful and I just want to put it out there.

Sure, a couple of the spots are from NIKE … and while many people may think thats easy for us to do, the reality is that when you have worked with a brand for 30 years and manage to still do work that feels fresh and energetic, that’s a testimony to the people involved. From both sides.

But there’s also some work that you may not know of.

Work from Milka, Samsung and Southern Comfort.

Work that covers the whole spectrum of tonality and style.

But there’s two things that unite them all.

The idea. The craft.

When I see this stuff, I get excited. Not just because it’s lovely work, but because standards are being maintained and pushed.

Where many agencies have to resort to scam to get stuff like this out, we make it.

And for the record, I haven’t written this post because my annual review is coming up soon. That’s entirely coincidental. Ha.

So sit back and enjoy some of the work I feel excited to be connected to, even if in some cases, it’s purely because I work for the same company.

Let’s start with an epic singalong for Kobe’s goodbye …

Next up is the charming story of a little boy and a strongman for Milka …

From fairytale we now make turn, what may seem a small, incidental, functional feature into something interesting and – dare I say it – potentially valuable …

… and then we do it again, turning a mobile phone ‘low light camera’ into a badge for a night life well lived. Lovely stuff.

The last 2 – for some reason – I can’t add on the blog, so I’ll just give you the links.

The first is the magically farcical ad we did for Southern Comfort.

Check it out. Seriously, just check it out.

It’s so incredibly mental and I’m so incredibly jealous of it. And it worked its ass off … probably because it’s so ridiculous that it was exciting and refreshing for an audience who are bored to death of being spoken to [or should I say ‘at’] with contrived, patronising and self-serving messages of meaningless blandom.

And the last one is our LunarEpic Flyknit spot for Nike China … even though the link will take you to the English edit of the film.

Of course I’m biased but I love it.

I love it for a whole host of reasons, but most of all because it is something that is visually rich and interesting and feels more like a music video than an ad … and in a world of overly-worthy ‘manifesto’ style communication, it’s refreshing and intriguing – ESPECIALLY as there is some really great insight work that led to this execution.

That’s it … if this post doesn’t keep me in a job then nothing else will.

So enjoy them all and be rest assured, I’ll find something to talk about tomorrow.