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


What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]

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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.

Sanitization.

Blandness.

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.



Social Media That Is Actually Social …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with social media.

Actually I should rephrase that …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with people who claim social media is all that matters.

Part of it is because too many companies have approached it as free media.

Part of it is because too many agencies have approached it like it’s a magazine.

Part of it is because ultimately, everything can be social, not just things on certain platforms.

And that’s why, for all the hype it gets, the amount of social media campaigns that have actually been truly social [as in, gained traction and awareness beyond their core audience eco-system] is relatively small.

Please note I’ve said ‘campaigns’, not one-off tweets … which, apart from the fact the idea of a ‘campaign’ on social is kind of an oxymoron … makes it even smaller.

And then if you add ‘successful’ to that group of criteria, it gets even smaller … with arguably only Ice Bucket Challenge and #MeToo being worthy of acclaim, which, let’s not forget, were both causes dedicated to righting human wrongs.

Which is why I have fallen in love with this social media campaign from Doncaster County Council for naming their 2 new grit-spreading trucks.

Please read it.

Read all of it.

I know it’s super-long but I guarantee you will love it.

Every single line and suggestion.

For me, it’s single-handedly the best social media campaign of 2017.

No, seriously … because a conversation from Doncaster County Council about their Road Gritters achieved over seven million impressions in 48 hours.

Seven. Bloody. Million.

I love this campaign for so, so many reasons.

I love that they treated their audience with a brain.

“We would like your name suggestions for two of our new gritting vehicles, please. Keep em clean and be original – we’d prefer not to spend the next few days trawling through responses of Gritty McGritface and Gary Gritter. 🙄”

I love that the people running it were empowered to respond to negative comments with wit and focus rather than – as is the norm – to back down and beg for forgiveness when someone challenges them.

“For those who say the council shouldn’t be wasting their money on this, we say getting the community interested and engaged in how their town runs is a good thing”

I love there mischief and humor with lines including …

“When you look at your grandchildren, what side of history do you want to tell them you were on? #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup”

But most of all, I love that one of the winning names was …

Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney

… proving there is justice in the World.

Yet again, we see a campaign from an organisation that doesn’t have ‘social media experts’ dictating their approach being more successful than the output of an entire industry who claim to be the most informed people in their field.

Why?

Well, as much as I have met some truly brilliant social media strategists in my time, the fact is the vast majority fail because they forget the importance of understanding one key element in creating a social media campaign.

People.

Look, it’s not just the social media industry that is making this mistake, everyone in communication is … preferring to rely on data than some good, old-fashioned, get-in-the-weeds exploration and discovery.

This is not some anti-data rant, it’s just in our quest to drive speed and efficiencies, we are walking away from understanding the texture that makes any data worthwhile … the stuff that helps you develop ideas that feels it comes from the culture rather than an observer of it.

The Doncaster County Council campaign should serve as a reminder everyone about how to make great comms.

In these days where it seems the emphasis is on the platform, the reality is we’re all still trying to connect with humans so spending time to really understand how they think and do stuff is still the key to making ideas that makes a difference.

Not purely in terms of optimizating effectiveness, but in terms of how people feel, think and act.

You know, the stuff that makes sustainable differences to companies rather than this short-termism we have all fallen victims to because to quote John Le Carre, a desk is a dangerous place to view the World..



Inspiration From The Random Post-It Note Writer …

A few weeks ago – after being away on a business trip – I found the above note on my laptop.

I have no idea who wrote it and – to be honest – I’m not sure if it was meant as a reminder of what I should be doing or a report on what I do … but either way, it’s a pretty good standard to live up to.

Many years ago, a magazine asked what my job was. I replied …

“To ensure no one gets complacent, whether that’s the team, the agency or the client”.

I used to think what that meant was to ‘keep pushing, prodding and provoking so we would stay focused on making the biggest difference in the most interesting way rather than settle for good and easy’, but now I know a better interpretation is this.

Be great.
Fuck shit up.
And do it again tomorrow.

We all win if we all want higher standards.



Not Everyone Gets It …

I’ve written a lot about the state of tourism advertising.

To be honest, there’s very few categories that do it worse.

A mass of generic vignettes that shows every possible activity you can do with a bad line stuck at the end that generally tends to be some over-promising superlative placed before the name of country the ad is about.

There have been a few exceptions.

The original ‘100% Pure’ New Zealand campaign is one, but there’s not been many more.

Which is why I loved this poster that appeared in Helsinki …

OK, so they are preaching to the converted – given anyone who saw it happened to be there anyway – but it’s just a great way to make someone feel special and welcomed.

I love it.

I love it for so many reasons.

I love how they celebrate their visitors while also acknowledging they’re bloody nutcase.

I can imagine a tourist seeing that, agreeing it was a mental thing to do and then walking away smiling … feeling better about their decision and themselves.

That’s pretty impressive. Especially for a poster.

Which all goes to show that brands that are self aware can connect to culture better than brands that are bland egomaniacs.



Creativity Can Find A Way …

One of the things that bothers me about my industry is how they always talk about creativity when most of what they create is advertising.Of course advertising has creativity within it – sometimes, incredibly creativity – but often, the approach is to communicate the problem rather than solve the problem.

OK, so there are occasions when the biggest problem is a lack of awareness, but that is most definitely the exception rather than the rule.

I’ve written and talked about this so much over the years.

From my PSFK talk back in 2009 to my distain of Cannes scam to my adoration of designers and an absolute shedload in-between … and yet I continue to see briefs where the goal was obviously to ‘make an ad’ rather than ‘create a difference’.

This is not purely the agencies fault, in many cases it comes from the client.

Sometimes it’s because they need to support the retailers.

Sometimes it’s because their KPI’s are based on executional delivery.

Sometimes it’s because it would affect their remuneration structure with their agencies.

Sometimes it’s because they are not empowered to do anything different.

Sometimes it’s because they don’t actually care about solving, just producing.

And yet even in some of those approaches, there’s an opportunity to create a solution rather than make some noise if only they’d asked the right questions.

A while back, I had a client that briefed us on an ad campaign.

Got to admit, as much as I love them, it kind-of annoyed the hell out of me.

For me, that was like going to the doctor and diagnosing your own illness and solution.

So we asked why they wanted the campaign and they said they needed parents to let their kids do sport which was hard as they were worried their precious [only] child may get hurt.

And so we said, “If we can find a way to get parents to feel good about letting their kids do sport, are you open to it?”And when they said ‘yes’, it gave us the right to create bandaids that worked as badges of honor and comic books celebrating the power of sport.

Don’t get me wrong, if we had done a TV campaign it would have been a brilliant TV campaign.

But by asking a simple question, it allowed creativity rather than advertising to be the solution.

Or said another way, it opened possibilities rather than closed them off.

The reason for all this is that I recently saw a brilliant creative solution to slowing traffic down.

This is something that has been done in many ways over the years, including the brilliant Speed Dial by Colenso [video here] … but this was something even simpler.

This.

[Or if you’re too lazy to click on the link, the picture at the top of this post serves as a clue]

Now I know you might argue that once you know it’s not ‘real’ people won’t slow down, but I’d challenge that given the way the brain works.

But regardless, I will be interested to see what the data says after it has been in operation a while, but compared to a multi-million dollar ad campaign, or even the prices of stationing a copper there with a speed gun, I’m guessing it will be more effective.

And that is why our industry has to truly embrace creativity rather than just want to make ads.



Is Innovation The Fast Track To Corporate Fucking Stupidity?

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about how so many of the great ideas I’ve seen have come from the minds of designers rather than adfolk.

Where so many in my industry look to create eye-candy, designers are approaching their task in terms of solving the clients fundamental problem in the best and most visually interesting way.

There’s a lesson for many of us to learn in that.

However it’s not all great for designers.

Like that Pepsi bullshit from years back, there’s still examples where designers are taking the piss more than a catheter.

For the latest example, may I present to you Vodafone.

Whether we like them or not, our lives are very dependent on the telecommunications industry.

Sure, we might not use their service to make phonecalls anymore, but our smartphone addiction means we need their data so we can instragram our food at every possible moment.

Now obviously the telco industry doesn’t like being seen as just a ‘service provider’.

Part of that might be because of corporate ego, but the main reason is likely to be that for them to grow, they need to be regarded as an innovation company … someone who creates the future as much as serves it.

Whether you think that’s bollocks or not is up to you, but the reason I’m saying it is because that’s kind of the explanation Vodafone used for creating their new logo.

“What new logo?” I hear you cry.

This one …

“No Rob …” you reply, “… you’ve made a mistake, that’s the old logo”.

Oh no it isn’t folks, that’s the new one.

No seriously.

I swear to God.

Oh hang on, I don’t believe in God … OK, I swear on my heart.

Still don’t believe me?

OK, if you want absolute proof, here’s the old logo for comparison.

“But … but isn’t that basically the old logo just with the colours inverted?”, you stutter.

Well, I would agree with that assessment however we would both be wrong because apparently it is a new logo and, when you hear how the people at Vodafone describe it, it represents a new dawn for the company and it’s role and goal in society.

Here’s Ben Macintosh, Vodafone Australia’s customer business director …

“The changes represent the company’s ability to ‘innovate for the future ‘and supply choice for customers. The wants and needs of our customers have changed, and with that we’ve changed too. We challenge the status quo and push the boundaries to give people something that they won’t find anywhere else.”

I swear to god this is not an April Fool.

This really is their new logo and Ben Macintosh really did say that.

Look, I get Apple generated billions in extra revenue by simply adding a small ‘s’ to their otherwise near-identical product but this is a whole different scale of idiocy.

For me, there’s only 2 possible scenarios …

Either the branding company [which, let’s be honest, is not a design company] are fucking delusional or Vodafone is.

Whatever the truth, if I was a shareholder in the former I’d be buying more shares in them for their ability to charge millions for taking 10 minutes to literally invert the colours of their clients existing logos and if the latter, I’d be selling my shares as fast as I could possibly get rid of the worthless bastards.

On the bright side, I’m about to make a fortune as a branding consultant and my 1997 copy of Microsoft Paint.