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


Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



Love Hurts …

Once upon a time, I worked with a very talented creative from Mexico called Jorge.

He is the most amazing conceptual designer that I’ve ever worked with.

His history of work is incredible …

From the Coke Side of Life stuff to the Oreo Wonderfilled campaigns of the past.

Hell, I even wrote about some of his work before I even knew it was his work.

Everything he does has a strong sense for distinctive design and sophisticated craft.

He is also the person behind that picture at the top of this post.

Yep, a picture of a cover of a book about how much of an asshole I am.

And while I appreciate I can definitely be one, he isn’t calling me this because we didn’t like working together.

OK, so sometimes we argued, but generally we were a great team.

Hell, there are some meetings that have gone down into folklore. Or at least for us.

So why has he drawn that picture?

For one simple reason … I think he is a handsome bastard.

Actually, he’s not just any handsome bastard, he looks like that handsome bastard in Love Actually … Rodrigo Santoro.

This guy …

Look at him!!

How gorgeous is that.

OK, that’s not him, but it’s as good as being him.

Plus he’s charming too. OK, he can definitely be a bit of a prick [just ask his wonderful wife] but overall, he’s pretty awesome.

Anyway, because I thought he looked so much like AN INTERNATIONAL MOVIE STAR, I wanted to celebrate the fact … so I started getting some things made with his and Rodrigo’s face on it.

Badges.

Posters.

Packing tape.

That’s quite the compliment isn’t it?

Hell, I spent my own money on celebrating his face.

But did he like it? Did he bollocks.

He hated it.

He loathed it.

He felt it was an affront to his dignity.

To his talent.

Hence the book he made for my last birthday.

And while I get his point, it’s always the beautiful people who complain about being attractive isn’t it? Just like it’s only the 40 year olds who say “40 is the new 30”.

Try having a face like a dropped pie and a modicum of talent.

Yeah … try that Jorge and still be upset someone thinks you’re great.

Let me tell you. It doesn’t happen.

EVER.

And while I accept this post is a bit weird and may have a lot to do it being written at 4 in the morning while feeling utterly delirious, I am choosing to claim – and will stick to this argument, even if forced to appear in a court of law – that it proves something else.

Something the industry has always suspected, but never been able to confirm.

Creatives are weirdos. Thank god.

______________________________________________________________________________________

I am so sorry Jorge. But at least I know Ana will find if funny.



A Conversation About Living. And Failing.

A few weeks ago, my friend – Philippa White, the founder of TIE – spoke to me about my life.

While many would say that is the single worst idea anyone could have, Philippa – for reasons that still escape me – thought differently.

TIE – or The International Exchange – is an amazing thing.

They link people from the commercial world [from big organisations to people from BBH and W+K] with social initiatives around the world, providing unique opportunities that will transform the lives of both parties.

It’s an absolutely amazing organisation and the people who have done it talk about how it has had a profound affect on their lives – for the experience they had, the realisation that their skills can benefit people in different ways that they ever imagined and the lessons they learnt about what they’re good at, what they want to be good at and the future they can now envision for themselves.

I have not done TIE, but Philippa and I bonded when we met over the power of overseas experiences and learning and for some reason she wanted to talk about my journey.

We cover a whole lot of topics, from family to friendship to failure and while it may only be interesting to those looking for a cure for insomnia, if you’re looking for development, growth and having more meaning and value from your life … I can assure you TIE is definitely going to be of interest to you.

Thank you Philippa. Thank you TIE.

You can be disappointed by it here.



Give Me Something To Believe In …

One of the things I’ve found fascinating over the years is how many companies think all they need to do to keep employees happy is cash and perks.

Don’t get me wrong, cash and perks are very nice – and for some people, that’s all they need – however for a certain type of employee, there is another attribute that has equal, if not even greater, appeal.

Pride.

Pride in what they do.
Pride in how they do it.
Pride in who they do it for.
Pride in who they work with.
Pride in the actions of the past.
Pride in the ambitions for the future.
Pride in the standards the company lives by.
Pride in the companies standing in their field.

Now I get the C-Suite may like to think their employees are proud working for them – probably reinforced by countless questionable ‘monkey surveys’ sent by HR – however more often than not, they are confusing ‘having a job’ with ‘being proud of the job they have’.

Nothing highlights this more than when a company feels morale is down, because that’s the moment the spot-bonuses and/or impromptu office parties begin.

Does it work?

Sure. For a period of time.

However employees are no fools, they know the real reason for these ‘additional benefits’ is to keep them quiet rather than force the C-Suite to open up a set of issues they absolutely don’t want to have to deal with.

Why?

Because in the main, the issues are about them.

Specially the work they aspire for the company to make.

Look I get it … no one likes to face their potential failings, so if they can avoid it with spending a bit of cash, why wouldn’t they?

Well I’ll tell you why, because money can’t buy pride.

I say this because I recently saw a video of Steve Jobs talking about standards.

He’s made similar speeches over the years – with his ‘paint behind the fence’ being one of my favourites.

However I love this one because there’s a bit of bite in it.

A clear perspective on what standards he holds Apple too, rather than what the competition hold themselves too.

Sure, to some it could come across as arrogant, but I imagine to the people at Apple at that time, it induced the same feelings I have when I work for a company whose standards and ambitions were at least the same as mine or – hopefully – even higher.

Pride.
Confident.
Togetherness.
A sense of ‘us against them’.
That feeling you’re part of a place playing a totally different game to the competition. A special place. A place that does things right, even if people don’t quite get it yet. A place that attracts the best to do their best … but not in a way where you then feel ‘you’ve made it’ for being there. Instead, it’s a feeling of responsibility to keep the standards of name moving forwards. An intoxicating mix of expectation, judgement and encouragement all at the same time.

You can’t fake that.

You can’t buy it either.

So when the C-suite hand out promotions, payrises and parties in a bid to boost morale because the claims of doing great work are not convincing anyone … my advice is to save their cash.

Not just because the employees know exactly what they’re doing.

Nor because whatever they end up receiving, it still won’t buy their pride.

But because they could save a ton of cash by simply committing to doing things to the highest standards rather than the lowest … because at the end of the day, these people don’t need certainty, they just want possible and if they have that, morale will fix itself all by itself.




Why Do So Many European Confectionary Ads Leave Such A Bad Taste In Your Mouth?

We have had some amazing ads for confectionary over the years.

Trio. And the follow up.

Rolo.

Boost.

Maltesers.

Then, of course, the pinnacle … Cadbury Gorilla.

However one of the things I still haven’t quite understood is how we have also had some of the absolute worst.

I mean, for years, it was Ferrero Roche’s Ambassadors Table that was top of the shitness charts. An ad so bad, that it became great for its utter kitschiness.

And while no one ever really believed they were the chocolate favoured by diplomats, royalty and Ambassadors … it was a strategy that worked for many – from After Eights to Viennetta.

However there’s another ad that I’ve just seen that puts Ferrero firmly in second place.

They’re not saying they’re sophisticated.

They’re not claiming to be for special occasions.

They’re saying they are ‘so much fun’.

SO. MUCH. FUN.

Now don’t get me wrong, they’re a nice tasting bite, but fun?

They’ve never played video games with me.

They’ve never watched movies with me.

They’ve never even suggested you can use them as chess pieces.

What the hell is fun about it?

To answer this, let’s have a look at the ad they’re running shall we.

Did you watch it?

Did you survive watching it?

If it’s any consolation, that is still better than the one they ran last Christmas.

So, based on that monstrosity, they think they’re ‘so much fun’ because when you open up a pack, everyone comes out because they want to shove one of the caramel, chocolatey-hazelnut, nougat things right down their throat.

Which highlights 4 issues I have with this premise.

1. The client and the agency have no idea what fun actually is.
2. Even if it was ‘so much fun’, wouldn’t all confectionary be able to say that?
3. Where I come from, sharing something you like is cause for a fight, not fun.

So to dear old Toffifee … may I humbly suggest you sort yourself out.

Your ads are pants.

Your ingredients aren’t that unique.

The spelling of your name is absolutely horrific.

And most of all, your product is fair, but not fun.

Sort that out, and you can make Ferrero ads the most stupid again.

You’re welcome.