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


It’s Not Very Often You Get To Be At The Start Of Something Incredible …

As many of you know, I love technology.

I also am a huge advocate of talking to people.

Really talking … spending time with them, listening to them, understanding them.

And that’s why I am so happy that I’ve been able to bring both together through a project we’ve being doing at R/GA in London and Tokyo for the last 7 months called Human Technology.

No, I don’t mean the old Nokia saying, I mean literally meeting at the intersection of human curiosity and technological capability.

Over a long period of late nights and long weeks, a group of brilliant colleagues have been developing a new way to talk to people – a way that will allow us to conduct multiple interviews at the same time – enabling, for the first time, to get scalability on the nuance of conversation that I value so highly.

Now I know what you are thinking … this sounds awfully like a focus group and you absolutely, totally, passionately hate focus groups.

And you’d be right … there is a similarity between them.

But the beauty of this is that we are addressing the specific thing I don’t like about the way focus groups are approached.

You see the real issue I have is that focus groups are …. well, focused.

They don’t allow you to understand context … they don’t really care about having an appreciation of the audiences backgrounds or motivations, they just want to get to the answers they need answering.

So it is far less about understanding and far more about efficiency, which means you lose all nuance and authenticity, which is the difference between making work that is resonant with culture and relevant.

OK, it’s not perfect, there has definitely been more than a few occasions where things went a bit weird – similar to the AI Christmas Card experiment we did last year – but I’m over the moon to introduce you to Hans.

Look at him.

LOOK AT HIM.

He’s good isn’t he.

I admit it has taken a very, very long time to get here.

There has been a lot of mistakes, disasters, frustrations and questioning … but Hans [which stands for Human Android Nuanced Screener] is something we are all super excited about.

It’s all very well saying you want to create a new method for revealing insight and nuance, but it’s a very different matter getting there … and that’s why I’m so proud of the team as we’ve had to explore every single detail to get here.

From how we wanted the AI to behave, to what movements the robotics needed to have to feel as ‘human’ as possible … to his look, feel and sound … all in the quest to replicate the energy and aura of a none-threatening, but constantly interested person.

While there is still stuff to go, I think we’re doing pretty well, as the videos below show in terms of how we went from developing realistic hand movement robotics to building a model that allows for realistic human interactions.

[Excuse the terrible music, we’ve done these as part of film detailing the various stages of the project with one of our partners, Mert Arduino]

Creating The Hand

Creating More Human Interactions

The Different Faces Of Hans

Now the sad truth is we won’t be able to finish this to the level we want on our own.

For all the talent in the building and the network … time, technology and cost are all a hindrance to seeing this through to how we envision it can end up, which is why we are going to open this up to the creative technologists around the World, in the hope they want to be part of this project and see where they can help it go to.

Of course, few will do this without some sort of benefit, which is why I’m so happy to announce that anyone who takes part will have an ownership % so that if the technology takes off, they will directly profit from it.

We will soon be announcing how to get involved – as well as issue all blueprints and coding that we have already created to allow people to quickly add to the project rather than do things that have already been create – or we would if this wasn’t April 1st and a total load of bollocks.



I’ve Started A Cult. Apparently …

Another day, another post about my love of China.

So a few months ago I was there for the opening of a clients latest venture.

You should all check it out because it’s a luxury fashion mall THAT LOOKS LIKE MARS!

Literally.

It was specifically designed to feel like you are on a space station on another planet.

It features everything from luna modules to robot sheep to video screens that look like skylights that show you in outer space.

It is utterly mad and yet truly amazing.

A place that is like no other I’ve seen anywhere else in the World.

But then, without wanting to sound a corporate toadie, the client is like no other I’ve met anywhere in the World … even when I was living in China, which tends to have a lot of brilliantly ambitious folks than anywhere else I’ve lived.

I have to do a post about him soon because not only is his influence on the fashion world almost unparalleled – and I am comparing him to people like Anna Wintour in that statement, let alone the heads of Gucci, Prada and countless others – but in the time I’ve worked with him, he has taught me to look at strategy in a completely new way.

Given I’ve literally been working in this discipline for more years than you care to mention, that’s pretty amazing … so I am sure you would find him pretty fascinating too.

Anyway, as part of the project, I was interviewed about what we have been doing for him and how we have worked together.

I talked about how much I love China and how much of an honour it is for me and us to be able to go there and help with a once-in-a-lifetime project. This may sound like I was a total crawler, but the fact is it’s all genuine.

We have been allowed to influence and shape at the highest level – strategically and creatively – and that’s been amazing, especially when there have been times you’ve disagreed with some of the things they wanted to do.

That’s hard for companies to hear at the best of time, but when it’s the billionaire founder of an international fashion group, that’s a whole other level of sensitivity and yet he has been nothing but open to us because he knows we’re not doing it for any other reason than wanting him to win better.

And when you’re talking about creating Mars on earth, ‘winning better’ is going to be crazy fun, whatever way you look at it.

But back to the interview.

So off we head to China for the opening.

It was packed with press and celebrities.

Billionaires mingled with paupers – errrrm, me – fashionistas rubbed shoulders with fashion disasters – errrrm, me again – so imagine their surprise when the start of the official opening included this …

Yep … that’s me.

Yep … that’s my interview.

Yep … no one understood why I was there or what I was saying.

I’d love to say I was all cool, calm and collected, but I – along with my colleagues – were pissing themselves laughing.

It was madness and awesome all at the same time.

I didn’t know whether it was like a remake of the classic 1984 Apple ad. or my attempt to be the leader of a Birkenstock cult … but it was like nothing I had experienced in my life.

Which is another reason I love this project and miss China.

Because when you are working with someone who believes anything is possible – and has the drive to make it happen – the journey is equally as much fun as the destination and I feel massively fortunate to be on it.

Even if there are people all around the World asking themselves …

“Who the fuck was that old guy in the camo Nike hoodie?”



If You Know Who You Are, You Don’t Have To Say Much About Yourself …

A while back, I wrote about a chef we met on a research project for Tabasco, who said something that had a big effect on me …

“The more confident the chef, the more simply your dish”.

I love this.

It captures so much in so few words.

As you will be able to tell from this blog, I find it hard to be succinct in pretty much everything and anything I do.

I spend ages thinking about things … what is important, what isn’t, what might be that I haven’t thought about yet and what I just want to try to see what comes out the other side.

This is incredibly annoying for almost everyone. Including myself.

But after I’ve messed about with it all and got an idea about where my energy lies, I can eventually get things down to their bare essential – by which I mean reduce it down to the most important thing I need others to understand and feel.

I must admit, I used to give myself a really hard time on how long this process took – especially when I could see others pull it off in the blink of an eye – but the reality is it takes a lot of hard work to be simple and rigour means what you do is right rather than just fast.

I say all this because I recently came across Apple’s marketing philosophy from 1977.

Look at that.

LOOK AT IT!!!

One page. One single little page.

Now I know some will claim it is simplistic.

Or it features words that people may not get, like ‘impute’.

But when you read it – which at one single page, means you definitely will – you quickly understand the 3 essential values that the brand stands for, believes in and values.

They give a fuck about their audience.

They are brutally focused on what they do.

They place great value on how they communicate themselves.

But there’s a couple of other things.

One is they openly talk about ‘creativity’.

To do that in 1977 is amazing.

To do that in 1977 when you are in the computer business, is almost unheard of.

But what I like is they link creativity with professional.

Because not only does it mean Apple don’t see these as being mutually exclusive – which was definitely not a commonly held belief back then, maybe even now – but it’s a clue to the work they want to be known for.

Not creativity for creativities sake, but how they look at the world.

What being professional looks like to them.
What the values of being professional means to them
What the word professional represents in terms of how you live and act.

And given they placed huge importance in understanding their audience, it meant they could do work that moved away from the typical suit and tie, business communication of the day and make work that spoke human to human … acknowledging the creativity in all of us and talking about human values not just corporate efficiency.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is one more thing I love about all this.

They talk about how, if they do it right, their customers will feel about Apple and their products.

Not a bunch of words … but emotion.

Of course this is all very obvious, but there are way too many clients who try to define the exact words they want people to play back to them.

Generic … overly-defined … corporate-talk … words.

It’s as if their bonus is linked directly to the quantity of words a focus group plays back to them.

Which is probably the exact reason why they do it.

But Apple in 1977 didn’t follow that path – and still don’t – because they, like NIKE and countless other brands who have a huge influence in culture, appreciate the simpler you are, the more powerful you become.



Why Car Ads Are Killing The Car Category …

I wrote about an old car ad recently, but I recently saw another one that reinforced how far that category of advertising has fallen over the years.

Look at it.

Ridiculous.

Noticeable.

Full of charm and character.

Pretty much sums up the 2CV.

When was the last time you saw a car ad like that?

Hell, when was the last time you saw any car ad that made you give a shit, fullstop?

Sure there’s Wieden’s – and one of my absolute faves – Born of Fire for Chrysler and BBH’s wonderful Audi Clowns … but they are the absolute exception in a World dominated with ‘aspirational lifestyle’ imagery, topped with a bland, meaningless version of Just Do It as an endline.

It’s so sad because cars offer so much more than status and lifestyle.

And yet, that seems to be all car manufacturers want to spout – which is weird for a whole host of reasons.

One is that the future of the category is under severe threat by a generation who not only favour other options, but are increasingly not even bothering to learn to drive.

Second is the World is waking up to the environmental damage cars do and yet the infrastructure for the alternative – electric vehicles – is still insanely poor.

Finally is the fact that companies are actively pushing to lower salaries and full-time staff while increasing zero hour contracts, so who the hell do they think will be able to afford the cars they make anyway?

All in all, the category is crying out for someone who will disrupt the industry.

From ownership to running costs to marketing and everything in-between.

There’s a couple of companies exploring the possibilities … Volvo in particular are being pragmatic in these spaces … but even that might not be enough when the car manufacturers talk to the same [old] people, in the same places, with the same premise.

The last time I saw a long term brand idea for a car manufacturer that genuinely injected freshness and authenticity into the category through their work was Crispin’s ‘Mini’ … and that was back in 2002!!!

So while I hate looking backward and think most of the industries problems are because they are obsessed with ‘progressing’ through the rear view mirror, where car ads are concerned, they might do themselves a favour if they chose reverse gear.



Maybe The Thing Making Us Be Apart Is The Thing That Can Bring Us Together …

So today, I start working from home due to the devastating spread of corona virus.

As someone who has lived through SARS, avian and swine flu, you’d think I would be fine with it … but the way the government and media have responded, I have to say has left me on edge.

It feels like 28 Days Later – as we hide, hoping the invisible virus won’t get us while looking suspiciously at anyone who is outside or has a casual sneeze.

Personally I don’t think the government are taking it seriously enough.

I also think a lot of people are being way too blase about it.

But what’s worse is that while many of us are going to be inconvenienced, the elderly, the homeless, the single parents, the temporary workers, the unemployed and the small business owners are going to face a horrific time and no one seems to be creating plans for how they can cope.

I’m addition, it’s showing the worst of society.

From that fat, lying, cheating bastard who is the President of America – to the rapid increase in gun purchase in the USA [seriously, WTF?] to the disgusting locust like behaviour going on in across supermarkets all over the World.

I tell you what, any of these people who ever negatively judged immigrants, refugees or boat people better not do that from now on.

Though what’s the betting they’ll claim their situation is different.

I guess they’re right.

Refugees, migrants and boat people are trying not to die. They’re just trying to continue living in comfort and wipe their arse with 3-ply.

But through it all there have been signs of humanity showing their best side.

Coming together.

Uniting.

Looking out for others.

From the wonderful singing that is happening on balconies across Italy to Waitrose making sure all small business suppliers are paid the next day to LVMH doing this …

Given there are some companies you’d expect to jump to societies help who are acting like absolute wankers, it’s even more amazing LVMH are acting so swiftly and generously.

When this all passes, some companies will discover profit before people ends up costing them profit and people.

It’s a strange time but we will get through it – but what will make it better is if we can find ways to help those who feel left behind.

I’m working on something and there’s options already in place for the elderly – like this – but if you have more ideas, please let me know.

Most of all, look after yourself.

So far, 2020 has a lot to improve on.



How A Toilet Company Pissed On Purpose. Literally And Metaphorically …

It’s Friday 13th, so what better day to write about the scary subject of ‘brand purpose’.

OK, so unlike Mr Weigel, I believe brand purpose does have a real value.

That said, like Martin, I don’t believe purpose can be manufactured – or changed on a whim – and I certainly don’t believe it can do what governments can’t.

A while back I wrote a post about where purpose is going mad and used an umbrella shop as an example of when it all goes to shit.

Well, talking of shit, I recently was in Denmark.

When I was at the airport, I needed the loo – so in I went and then saw this …

Look at that …

No, not the loo, but the purpose.

Together We Change.

TOGETHER WE BLOODY CHANGE!?

Change what?

I think it has something to do with saving water but … what the fuck?

It’s a urinal.

A public urinal.

Why are they trying to sound like they’re making an Oscar speech.

Let’s not forget, this is a device that has been made to catch wee-wee [don’t say this blog isn’t kid friendly] … it’s an important device but not one worthy of a purpose like that.

And what’s the ‘Together’ part of that statement?

Are they organising men to have a filter placed in their penises [don’t say this blog doesn’t use correct biological terms] to ensure the water they emit is cleaned at source?

All this was going through my mind until I looked around the bathroom I was standing in and saw the state of the floor.

Piss. Everywhere.

EVERYWHERE.

Which immediately made me realise I’d been too harsh on the toilet company and their grandiose purpose because what I think they meant when they said ‘Together we change’ was …

“Hey men, stop pissing on the floor”

… though they would have more luck if they used the genius fly on the urinal trick, rather than another pointless purpose that people laugh at rather than are inspired by.

Purpose has a place in brands.

Purpose can be very powerful for brands.

But the moment you think it can be anything you want it to be and you act like it’s not for commercially beneficial reasons, then the only people you’re kidding is yourself.



And You Thought Corona Virus Was The Worst Thing Happening Right Now …

So recently, I got an email from a guy called Fergus at On Strategy.

He’s a planner, but more importantly, he’s a planner who wants to help all planners get better, more confident and more capable in their jobs.

Not in terms of giving them models or processes or other stuff that often takes the creativity out of strategy, but giving access to the stories, conversations and people who are often only accessible to those with a very expensive subscription to various industry platforms … which is ironic given most of these platforms claim to exist to raise the bar for the industry as a whole.

The reason this is so important is there’s a distinct lack of investment by agencies in training and industry events/membership – not to mention most of them don’t have a philosophy on how to look at the world of planning and creativity – so we end up with way too many planners thinking the only way they can learn the stories and craft of the discipline is by following the ego-filled rantings of various people on twitter.

While I’m definitely one of them, you’ll soon have another reason why this is a terrible way to ‘grow’ for most planners. Existing or wannabe.

So while Fergus is doing a very good thing – exemplified by the huge range of truly great planners he’s had on his show – he made a fatal error by [you guessed it] asking me to rant about the state of strategy and what I think we’re doing wrong and right.

While I’m sure Fergus won’t make that mistake again, I’m grateful he did and you can pick fault with all I said by listening here … though if I were you, I’d check out the much better and smarter stories from either my old mate Britton at W+K Portland, the brilliant Lucy Jameson of Uncommon – whose shadow is smarter than most planners brains combined (Fact!) – or ex-R/GA London’s Simon Wassef who explains how this office helped design, build and create the brand, story and system for Beats By Dre.

Much better uses of your time.

But then you already knew that.