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

The Best Monday Of Your Life. Unless You Live In NYC …

So the good news is this is the one and only post of the week.

I know … could today be any better?!

You see as you read this, I’m on a plane zooming my way to NYC.

I must admit I’m super excited about it.

Not just because I miss the rush of an intense city … nor because I will get to see friends who I miss very much … but because I’ll be doing two things that are going to be new to me.

One is I’ll be judging the final round of the North American Effies.

The other is that I’ve been invited to talk to design gods, Pentagram.

OK, so I’ve judged the Effies before and I’ve done more than my fair-share of talks, but what’s exciting to me about this is that it’s a totally new context.

The reality is American advertising is very different to the advertising I am used to, make and – to a certain degree – love.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different.

More bombastic. More spell-everything-out. More leave-nothing-to-chance-or-interpretation.

It’s also much more rational and focused on driving immediate sales than creating a position in culture that builds sustainable brand value.

OK, not every brand is like that – and I also know many other markets are becoming more and more like this – but as someone who passionately believes in setting long-term directions, not to mention true culture driven ideas, it’s going to be interesting how I view the results versus some of my fellow judges.

As for the talk …

Well, we all know I can do that in my sleep, but I must admit I’m super excited to be doing it at Pentagram.

For those of you who don’t know, Pentagram are one of the undisputed gods of design.

Literally, one of the gods.

Given it’s not that long ago I was only using the IMPACT I must admit to being somewhat surprised they asked me to come talk to them about my perspective on design, but then I discovered it was less about me and more about the work I’m doing with a certain famous rock band which is why I felt the best way to handle the challenge is to only have 1 image and make that image truthful to what I am sure they’ll leave thinking about me.

Especially when they see my Birkenstocks.

So while I know it’s Monday and you’re probably not looking forward to the week ahead, I hope this post has helped offer you a glimmer of hope for the next 5 days. Unless – of course – you’re based in NYC, and then your week is even darker than you could ever have imagined.

See you next week …


A Picture Tells A Thousand Data Points …

One of the things I love is hearing anecdotes of how people got companies to do things they initially didn’t want to do.

It is particularly of interest to me when those anecdotes are based around creative approaches to achieving their goal.

Recently I heard one that I think is of particular brilliance.

While the move towards electric cars is inevitable, the reality is that unless manufacturers make their cars highly desirable – in terms of appearance, function and excitement – it’s going to be a slow sell.

Let’s face it, Tesla’s success has little to do with how they’re powered and more to do with the fact it borrows from the sort of ‘future tech’ we were sold in cartoons as little kids.

Silent? Check.

Gull wing doors? Check.

Central computer screen? Check.

Self driving abilities? Check.

Hyper-speed button? Check … even though they call it ‘insane’.

But as cool as this all is – and it is – the reality is it comes at a price that most car manufacturers can’t get away with, so they have to try and find ways to offer desirability but at a lower unit price.

Which leads to this story I heard recently …

Because of the batteries needed to power the new generation of electric cars, the reality is most cars will be designed to be slightly taller to accommodate them. In turn, what this means is that to stop the cars looking slightly weird, they require bigger wheels – which adds a huge cost to the manufacturing process.

So the story I heard is that the designer of one of these cars was being told by his board that they would not sanction the bigger wheels as the price was too high.

He tried all manner of ways to get them to change their mind, but they felt it was a purely aesthetic issue and one they could live with.

So as a final act of desperation, he decided to do a presentation to the board about the importance of perspective.

In his presentation, he showed 2 pictures.

This …

And this …

The top he said would be how their car would look with the smaller, cheaper wheels.

The bottom would be how their car would look with the bigger, more expensive wheels.

Or said another way, one would look weird, one would look normal.

Apparently the board smiled.

Then approved his recommendation.

The reason I’m saying this is that we live in times where there appears – at least to me – an over-reliance on data to explain/decide/justify everything.

Of course data is important, but unless you do something with it that your audience can relate to, it’s pointless. And that’s why I love the above story so much because what the electric car designer did, was remind us how visual storytelling can influence or frame an argument in in ways data alone can’t always achieve.

Worth remembering next time you are writing a deck and filling it with a 100 pages of data explanation.

Why A Bin Is Better Than Earth Hour …

I’ve written about my skepticism of Earth Hour.

And while I appreciate any bit of good is good, I feel the problem with Earth Hour is that it lets people off the hook for the remainder of the year just because they turned their lights off for a few hours on a single day.

Recently I saw this …

Yes, it’s a bin.

A simple bin in the airport.

But what I love about it is the fact it says LANDFILL, rather than rubbish.

Maybe this is nothing new – maybe this is just a byproduct of having lived in China for the past 7 years – but by ensuring I knew exactly what was going to happen to what I put inside it, it made me look at what I was doing.

I’d like to think I give a shit about the environment, but I can honestly say that bin had a stronger effect on me than Earth Hour. Not only that, but that bin won’t let me off the hook for the rest of the year. It will be there – every time I pass it – reminding me that my choices will determine how much I poison the planet.

The other thing this does is highlight my big problem with adland … which is that it loves to communicate problems rather than solve them.

When a bin [and let’s remember, this is not the first time this has happened] produces more effective solutions than much of adland – and certainly what adland awards at shows like Cannes – maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we view is creativity.

Please don’t think I am pissing on the power of communication or ignoring the importance of craft and exploration – of course I’m not – but for an industry that celebrates the freedom of creativity, it’s amazing how limited we are in our execution of it.

Of course part of that is our ego – because not only do we like to think that we can solve all the problems of the universe, but we feel simply ‘renaming’ something is beneath our creative brilliance, despite it potentially being more effective than a Worldwide campaign asking us to turn our lights off for the night.

I think this is why I loved Fearless Girl and Mr Parking Ticket Nerd because at the end of the day, they have understood our industry is at it’s most powerful when we’re at the creative end of business rather than the business end of creativity.

When You Run Out Of Reasons To Believe …

Reasons To Believe, or RTB for short.

Of course they’re super important, but a few years ago, I realized that clients felt they were important for different reasons than agencies.

For us, it’s about proof. Something tangible we can use to help build our ideas off.

Of course it’s best when it’s something unique, but as long as it’s true, that will do.

But for clients, it’s different.

Sure, they know it helps sell their product to their audience, but it’s also important to them for self-validation reasons.

Imagine you’d spent 3 years of your life making Post-It notes slightly more sticky. You’d want to feel that was worth it wouldn’t you … so when an agency comes back with an idea that doesn’t focus on the importance of ‘stickiness’, you’d feel all your hard work was wasted. So you’d push back.

And back.

And back again.

And even though it leads to fucking awful advertising, you’d be happy because for you, this isn’t about selling the product, it’s about you feeling less shit that a proportion of your life was spent on making a piece of paper slightly more sticky.

I experienced this quite recently – when I was in China.

For weeks we had issues with a client on a particular idea before we discovered he was the person behind the design of a small element of the brand and he felt we were ignoring it … which translated to him feeling we were ignoring him.

Ego can be a great thing.

It can give you the impetus to push you forward. Try new things. Explore new standards.

It can also fuck you up.

Make you lose sight of the bigger picture. Or any picture for that matter.

Which is probably what happened to the guys who had to do the packaging for the brown packing tape.

And why I love the absolutely correct comment from Mike Jennings [courtesy of John Dodds]

If that wasn’t enough, here’s something else to blow your mind.

I am on holiday on Monday for 2 days.

A work holiday and a national holiday.

Bet you thought my days of free holiday blagging were over, didn’t you.

Well you thought wrong, because it is July 4th … a day I will soon grow to love.

And with that, I’ll see you Wednesday y’all.

Brands With Tickets On Themselves …

I’ve written about San Pellegrino before.

I talked about their mental joint promotion with Bvlgari.

And the with Vogue.

I talked about how a brand I previously enjoyed was in danger of alienating me with it’s wanker associations.

To be honest, it’s less about who they partner with and more about how they present that partnership … screaming it out, showing their desperation rather than cool.

Well recently I saw something else …

To be honest it’s something I’ve seen for ages but maybe, because I was in Malibu, it seemed even more ridiculous despite the fact it kind-of fitted-in with all the other ridiculous folks that were there … prancing around in their designer gear despite the fact they were in a little park for little kids.

What am I going on about?

This …

Or more specifically, this …

Lets put aside the fact this is a can of soda wearing a little hat – A. LITTLE. HAT. – and focus on them creating an app that they want you to download before drinking their overpriced flavoured water.

What the hell?

Seriously, how pretentious, egotistical and up-yourself can they be?

Even the millionaire kids on instagram – with their turned up collars and turned down shades can’t pull all that off so successfully at once.

Seriously San Pellegrino, get your shit together.

You seem to have forgotten being classy and sophisticated is different to acting like Kim Kardashian.

I know Italians are capable of some alarming lack of taste, but this might be a step too far.

It Takes A Lot Of Work To Keep The Fizz From Going Flat …
April 21, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Creativity, Culture, Design

A long time ago, I knew the guys who started the design company ATTIK.

They had the sort of rollercoaster ride that made everyone involved in it, feel alive by scaring them half to death.

While this article is old, there’s tons of great advice in it for companies … whether new or old.

Having gone through a bunch of highs and lows with both Cynic and Sunshine – and a load of others to be honest – there’s so much of what they say that I absolutely relate to, whether that’s never letting the hustle stop to always being connected to what’s happening at the edge, rather than letting yourself be comfortable with the middle.

Or as they say it …

“It’s like retiring from football and ten years later expecting to play against younger guys, it wasn’t the way to go.”

Read it, I’m pretty certain you’ll enjoy it.

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.