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


Answer The Brief, Not Answer With Options …

One of the things I find really interesting is how adland has got into the habit of providing clients with multiple options for every bit of work.

Oh I get it.

Apart from the fact there’s always more than one way to answer any brief, we want – or should I say, we need – clients to be happy.

Except it doesn’t always end up that way does it?

We make alternatives that aren’t as good as the idea we think they should buy.

Clients demand diluted versions of the work we don’t really like in the first place.

We end up getting fired because the campaign they pushed us to make didn’t work as well as they wanted.

Who are the bigger idiots?

The people who don’t buy what the experts put forward or the experts that offer alternatives they don’t really believe in?

Which is why every single person should read the story of Paul Rand – the designer who Steve Jobs turned to, to design the logo for his NeXT computer company.

Not just because it’s a brilliant story.

Not just because he didn’t even bother to turn up to the pitch, he just sent a brilliant 100 page book with his idea in it.

But because when Jobs was asked what it was like to work with Rand, he said …

“I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said … no, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me.

You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.’”

How good is that?

+ I will solve your problem for you.

+ You will pay me for my recommendation, whether you use it or not.

+ If you want options, go talk to other people.

While some may claim that makes Paul Rand arrogant or petulant, I would say it shows someone who knows the value of their experience … their talent and their craft.

More than that, I think it shows someone who really thinks about what idea is the right one for their client and then puts only that one in front of them.

Not countless options.

One.

A single idea that has gone through hundreds of possibilities to get to that single recommendation.

Something that has been created and crafted to answer the brief, rather than simply executed to satisfy the clients taste.

And while the article itself states the NeXT logo might not be a classic … the style, approach and attitude of the presentation certainly is.

Adland should take note.

Read it here.



Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



Art Writes New Rules …

One of the things I love about this industry is our way of re-writing rules.

I don’t mean that in terms of post-rationalisation.

I don’t mean that in terms of rebellion.

I mean it in terms of letting creativity take us to new places.

That said, I think a lot of people forget this.

Clients and colleagues.

Specifically the one’s who encourage work to go where others have gone before.

Or where the brand has previously been.

Or just killing ideas before they’ve had a chance to start to evolve.

Of course I appreciate what we do has a lot of implications on our clients business.

That to get it wrong has serious ramifications.

But – and it’s a big but – doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t move you forward.

The opposite in fact.

They know this.

We know this.

And yet I hear words like ‘optimisation’ far more than I do ‘creativity’ these days.

Now I get it, you want to get every bit of value from something that you can, but our obsession with models and processes just limits our ability to invent and move forward.

Please don’t think I’m discounting the value of experience.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

But basing the future purely on what has happened in the past – specifically your individual past – is not experience, it’s blinkered.

Case in point.

Mouldy Whopper.

Here was a campaign that was attempting to do something differently. But rather than be curious about how it would be received, industry people – the same folks who are supposed to be pushing for creativity – were violently writing it off from the beginning. And when I pointed out that no one really knew what the campaign was trying to achieve – I copped it too.

Hell, I didn’t even like it very much, but I appreciated they were doing something different and evidence showed it was getting people to talk about preservatives in food – which was a positive for BK – so at the very least there were something positive in that. But then a senior industry person challenged me – said it was only people in the bubble of adland doing that – so when I proved he was wrong, he just disappeared. Happy to throw out personal opinion but not happy to be shown it was just his personal opinion. And that was my issue, we didn’t know how it would go. We had thoughts, we had opinions but we didn’t give it the time to see how it played out and apparently, it did pretty well by a whole range of metrics.

Of course, the great irony is that when you do have a brand that believes creativity can move things forward in unexpected ways, then you get accused of your job being easy.

I can’t tell you the amount of times people said to me, “it can’t be hard working on NIKE, they love being creative”.

Of course, the people who say this have never worked on NIKE and tend to be the first to criticise anything they think is ‘too creative’.

My god, when Da Da Ding came out, the wave of, “I don’t get it”, “it’s indulgent” was amazing.

But not as amazing as the fact that a lot of the abuse came from white men not based in India.

But I digress.

I love creativity.

I use that word specifically as I see it as being much bigger than advertising.

At least in terms of where the inspiration can come from and how it can be applied.

I am in awe when I see ideas taking shape. Things I never imagined coming together in the aim of changing something rather than just communicating it.

One of my greatest joys was running The Kennedys, because I saw that in possible its purest form.

From making takeaway coffee cups into dog frisbees to re=programming Street Fighter to represent the lessons they’d learnt over the previous year … was epic.

Sure, sometimes it was scary, frustrating and painful.

Sure, there were arguments, walk-outs and moods.

But as I wrote before, great work leaves scars and while that doesn’t mean it can’t be an exciting journey to be going on, it will have many twists and turns.

Or it will if you are pushing things enough.

And that’s what this post is about, because recently I read a story about John Kosh.

John was the creative director of Apple.

Not the tech company, but The Beatles.

John Lennon loved him and at 23, he found himself art directing the cover of their iconic album, Abbey Road.

What many people fail to realise is the band name was no where on the cover.

And while John had logic behind that decision, many in the industry thought differently.

Especially at their record company, EMI.

In fact, the only reason it ended up happening is that timing was so tight that it was allowed to slip through before anyone else could stop it.

Another example of chaos creating what order can’t.

What a story eh?

And before anyone starts saying I’m wrong …

I’m not saying the decision to remove the bands name from the cover made the album successful. This was The Beatles after all – the biggest, most successful band of all time – so it was always going to sell by the bucketload. However I am saying the decision to remove the bands name from the album cover helped make it iconic … which arguably, helped make it even more successful.

Not to mention make the zebra crossing on Abbey Road one of the busiest in the World.



Are Warc Berks?

Last year, WARC made the terrible mistake of inviting me – and Martin, though he is never a mistake – to talk at their show at Cannes.

While our talk on chaos seemed to go down rather well, I was still amazed they invited us.

Well, me.

Amazingly, they still haven’t come to their senses, because last month they asked me to write something about how COVID-19 was affecting business. And while they wisely edited down what I’d written, you’d have think they would have learned their lesson by now.

But no.

And while I would love to say the reason I am posting it on here is because I feel it is a worthy read, the real reason is I am too tired to write a post today so this solves that ‘problem’ nicely.

I know this gives you no incentive to actually read it, but it does talk about Pornhub in it.

And penis shaped pasta.

And David Lee Roth.

Oh who am I kidding, you don’t even read the short posts.

Damnit.

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If You Think Change Only Happens When There’s A Global Pandemic, You’re Not Paying Close Enough Attention.

COVID COVID COVID. That’s all I’m hearing.

Of course I get it … it’s a terrible situation with ramifications that could fundamentally change the way we live, work and operate forever.

Hell, just a few weeks ago, the head of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, suggested the demand for travel – by road or rail – will reduce so dramatically [due to companies and employees recognising the ability to work from home] that the government may be better putting money into broadband instead of bolstering infrastructure.

That statement, if true, would have a seismic impact on an incredible amount of industries … from car manufacturing, train services, commercial leasing and banking to name but a few. And then, when you add in the expectation’s [some of] society is placing on the actions and behaviour of brands through websites like didtheyhelp.com, you see why some are saying the societal reset button has been pressed.

But I’m not going to write about that.

Not because I don’t believe it, but because everyone is writing about it.

My point is less dramatic. It’s simply that how we live, work and operate is always evolving, so if you only think it is happening now, you’ve been asleep at the wheel.

If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards

I don’t want this to be a big piece for R/GA, but we’ve always loved playing to where culture is heading rather than where it is.

It’s part of the reason why we’ve continually reinvented ourselves as a company and why we’ve been able to fuse creativity with technology to either define the future normal or open the door for it to start establishing itself.

Some of these ideas required us to be ridiculously audacious – like when we created Fuel Band for NIKE to start changing the way everyday athletes train and develop or when we created one of the first digital banks – NEXT in Brazil – because we saw how the values and aspirations of 20-30 year olds were totally different to the products and services the established banks were offering.

And while those two are on a grand scale for liberating change, the reality is it doesn’t matter what the size of the project is, we always place huge value on exploring cultural and sub-cultural changes because pandemic or not, people are always evolving.

While I really didn’t want to talk about COVID-19, the fact is the biggest shifts occur when there is a crisis and it’s fair to say, that’s what’s going on now.

Put simply, crisis collapses time.

What could take decades to evolve can happen in years, months, weeks or minutes.

For example, after arguably centuries of being denied, women were finally recognised as societal equals* after people [read: men] saw the vital role they had played in the war effort of WW2.

[* acknowledging that women are still continually denied equality in so many aspects of life]

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Newton’s 3rd law, which states ‘for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction’ has been around since 1686. But some had started to believe these shifts only occurred through technological revolution when the reality is cultural adversity is equally as powerful … and the reality is COVID-19 is creating some major changes of attitude and behaviour.
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At the time of writing …

35% of Britons are worried about their employment.

The average Londoner is saving over 2 hours per day of commuting time working from home.

The top 10 fastest growing products being bought on the internet right now are in the categories of healthy eating, medicine and gym equipment … though chips, popcorn and snack foods are also all experiencing triple digit growth.

64% of people believe their community is stronger now than pre-COVID-19 … with approx. 1/3 of people offering to help vulnerable neighbours.

Families are now spending approx. 16 hours awake together compared to a previous average of 2.5.

Google searches for ‘meditation’ has reached its highest level in history.

Visits to Pornhub.com has risen globally 11+%, with ‘corona virus’ searches in the site reaching 1.5 million on March 5th alone.
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These are all big shifts with major implications. And while I accept there is a chance things will return to the ‘old normal’ when the situation becomes a bit more stable – there are 3 things to remember:

1. The longer this goes on, the more likely these new attitudes and behaviours will become established and self-sustaining.

2. Not everyone’s situation is the same, including when isolation will end for them.

3. Even if things do return to the past for every single person, they will all continue on their individual journey of evolution … whether in attitude, behaviour, aspiration, ambition or a combination of all.

A New Value Of Money?

Once upon a time, the rock singer, David Lee Roth, said:

“Whoever said money doesn’t buy you happiness doesn’t know where to shop”.

While this may well have been the attitude for multiple generations, right now – across the entire World – the value of money is literally being re-written by society.

I’m not talking about what and where people want to spend their cash [though there are some fascinating facts emerging, such as Ann Summers – the adult romance company – revealing the shortage of pasta in supermarkets had led to them selling more of their ‘penis pasta’ in 1 week than they’d sold in all of 2019] … I’m talking about their relationship with it and, as a result, their relationship with their banks.
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At the time of writing …

55% of people are very or extremely worried about the national economy, with 35% very or extremely worried about their household financial position.

950,000 people have successfully applied for Universal Credit in 2 weeks.

In the UK, car sales for March 2020 have fallen 40%.

56% of Britons actively want to support local businesses over global business.

22% of Britons are already changing buying habits, especially for non-essential items.

And while on their own, these might not seem scary – even though they only represent the first 4 weeks of Corona impact in the UK – when you overlay it with some of the cultural narrative appearing on Mumsnet and Reddit …

“I don’t want to live in a city where I can’t afford a back garden”

“Why have investments when they go down when you need them most”

“Who thought I’d value a full fridge more than full wardrobe?”

“The government needs to see public services as an investment, not a cost”

… you start to realise the fundamental attitudinal changes that are starting to occur.

Of course, many of these shifts in attitudes regarding money may be being driven by their circumstances.

Maybe they can’t believe how quickly their financial situation has changed.
Maybe for the first time in their life, access to what they’ve always enjoyed faces obstacles.
Maybe the lack of human contact has highlighted how alone they are.
Maybe it’s seeing a business they built for years fall apart in days.
Maybe it’s not being able to leave their apartment and breathe fresh air for weeks.
Maybe it’s realising that how you live is becoming more important than what you have.
Maybe it’s realising this isn’t a matter of wealth or poverty… but life or death.

Whatever the reason, you start to think that just maybe some of the fundamental values, attitudes and behaviours entire industries have banked on – and actively fought to maintain – are starting to shift.

If that becomes reality, then not only are the ramifications going to be mind-blowing for business, it will mean Alvin Toffler – the futurist, writer and businessman – was right when he said the illiterate of the 21st won’t be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

While I readily admit I have neither the brains, vocabulary – or even the looks – of Mr Toffler, I wholeheartedly subscribe to his belief that change is the only constant … which is why I thought I’d end this piece with 3 ways we help our clients be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

1. The Most Valuable Thing You Can Give Your Client Is Honesty

When we were helping create Next Bank in Brazil – part of Bradesco – we discovered nearly 70% of the target audience would rather visit the dentist than go to a bank. No-one likes to hear they’re not liked, but knowing what people really thought of them allowed us to make decisions that could drive the biggest impact and value. In simple terms, it meant everyone was behind creating a bank that didn’t act or operate like a typical bank.

2. The Culture Of The Category Tells You The Direction Of The Category

We spend a huge amount of time understanding the culture around a category. Not just in terms of how people transact or interact … but how they live, act, talk and behave. From the music they love to the hashtags they use. For example, with NIKE Girlstalk, we use interviews, social listening and data to understand how athletes are talking about sport … because often shifts in language indicate changes in how they see or play sport. Some may not think this is important, but it’s the difference between talking athlete to athlete or brand to customer.

3. Use Technology To Be More Human, Not More Automated

We believe customer experience builds and defines brands. It’s why we look at technology as much more than a tool to drive efficiency and optimisation … but something that can engage audiences emotionally and distinctly. For example, COVID-19 is revealing a multitude of ways people are using tech to feel connected to others … from Zoom background hysteria to virtual pub quizzes to mega concerts on Fortnite. All of this shows the multitude of ways society plays with tech to provide them with emotional – not just functional – fulfilment, which should remind brands their customers need more than just, ‘category best practice’ digital efficiency.

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Sources:
The Daily Mail, 6 April, 2020
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Office For National Statistics
Stackline Retail Intelligence
OnePoll on behalf of ChannelMum.com Survey
Prof Jacqui Gabb of the Open University
Google Analytics
Pornhub.com Corona Virus Data
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
The Guardian Newspaper April 1, 2020
Reuters, April 6, 2020
Hall & Partners
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Topics of conversation on Mumsnet/Reddit during March 2020



If You Think It Would Be Mad, It’s Probably Got Something Going For It …

Before I write today’s post, I want you to listen to something …

Yep, that’s the White Stripes with their now classic, ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I say classic, because it is.

It was recorded in 2002 as a bit of fun and yet now it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Sung at concerts.

Sporting events.

Pubs.

It’s the modern equivalent of Smoke In The Water … the go-to song for any guitarist starting out. [And the nightmare for any guitar shop employee]

But the thing about it that I never realised is that it’s a song without a chorus.

Nothing.

Nada.

It’s deliberate, because one day Jack White liked the idea of – in his own words – “creating a compelling song without a chorus”.

And he did.

A song that will no doubt outlive him because – like Queen’s We Will Rock You – is a simple, repetitive riff that allows audiences to not just join in, but be an integral and active participant in the music.

When you look at the ad industry, while we have evolved from talking AT audiences, our version of audience involvement is still largely based getting them to be an extension for what we’re doing rather than be an integral part of it.

Now of course, I get an audience doing stuff for a band they love is very different to getting people who are mildly interested in a brand, to do something for us … but the main point here is we are not pushing any boundaries right now.

Oh of course there’s agencies constantly pronouncing they have just executed a ‘world first’, but apart from the fact it’s often just a slight variation of something that has previously been around, it’s almost always done to benefit the agencies and clients ego and no one else.

But where is the bolder stuff?

The writing a compelling song without a chorus stuff?

If adland was about writing music, you can bet EVERYTHING would have a chorus.

It would also probably be a pop-song, 3 minutes long [MAX], as simplistic as they can make it and designed to be so palatable as to not offend a soul.

It would be this song …

Hell, even Matt Beaumont thought so in his brilliant book, E.

OK, I’m being a bit mean because its not like there aren’t some agencies doing amazing pieces of work using the ‘traditional’ model not to mention those who are genuinely trying to push the boundaries of what creativity can be – and do – for clients, like this brilliant Planned Parenthood campaign we did at R/GA recently … but in the main, the focus is not about breaking new ground it’s about treading carefully over the old.

Look, I get it … this stuff costs a lot of money.

There’s a bunch riding on it.

But where this ‘minimum risk’ approach fails is when brands talk about wanting to make a big impact in culture … something that powerfully differentiates themselves from the competition … an idea that change attitudes and behaviour … because the most effective way to increase the odds of this happening is to literally do something that runs counter to traditional norms.

An airport lounge that is modelled on a Rock Stars house.

An electric car with an insane button.

A ravioli where the pasta disappears.

An ad that talks about failure.

Now I know what you’re thinking, most companies will never do that.

And you’re right.

But what I find amusing is that we all know doing the same as everyone else produces, in the main, even less chance of breakthrough success than walking into the unknown or unexpected.

The harsh reality is that while many companies talk about breakthrough … innovation … provocation … what they really mean is – at best – being a degree or two better than their competition or – at worst – simply playing catch-up

Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation.

And while I know there is a lot of talent in our biz – talent who use creativity to create incredible ways to either deal with old problems or create new normals – we are in danger of letting ourselves just become executioners of clients transactional requirements, and if that happens, we lose any chance of regaining/retaining our seat at the boardroom table. Because in my experience what the best C-Suite want aren’t companies who simply execute their requirements, but those who see the World differently to them, so they can help them get to places in ways they never imagined possible.

In other words, creative people with commercial appreciation rather than commercial people with creative appreciation.

Now the problem is we live in times where the money men value consistency more highly than boldness … which is ironic given they them place them under immense pressure to keep finding new ways to grow, transform and unlock new revenue streams.

An oxymoron if you will.

Which, for me, highlights 3 things.

1. Independence is power.

2. As Martin and I talked about at Cannes last year, chaos can achieve what order can’t.

3. The only things worth doing are the ones that can break your heart.