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

How Far We Have Come …

When I was young, I loved cars.

OK, I still do … but back then, they held a particularly strong fascination.

Freedom. Independence. Status.

Now while there are many cars that are burned into my consciousness – the Ford Fiesta XR2, the Fiat X19, the Triumph TR7 to name a few – there is one that has a special place in my heart.

Not because I wanted one, but because in my provincial mind, it represented the pinnacle of success.

It was … a Ford Granda.

Yes … that tank like thing at the top of this post.

I know … I know … how utterly shameful.

As I said, it wasn’t a car I aspired to owning or driving – besides, I was years off being allowed to drive – but it was the biggest car on the road and in my small, little mind, that meant the driver was doing one of the big jobs in life.

You have to understand that I was entering as period of my life where school life was soon going to make way for the rat race … and while I was good at school, I was crap at exams so I was looking for direction in terms of a job that could one day, potentially let me own a Ford Granada.

Jesus, I was sad.

It gets worse … because I still remember seeing a man drive a BMW 7-Series when they first came out and going up to him to ask what he did for a living as I couldn’t believe anyone in West Bridgford – my home town – could ever have a job that let them buy a car like that.

The irony was it was less about having something that would convey status and success to the outside world and more about setting a goal that would let me think I have done OK in life if I ever got to own one.

Which I didn’t .

The reason for all this is that I recently watched a video for the launch of the MK II Granada.

It’s long, but it’s worth watching for a whole host of reasons.

Part of it is because it highlights how far the car industry has evolved since 1984 interns of technology and what they regard as driver/passenger comfort and sophistication … part of it is because it’s funny to see them make big claims about small features [digital clock anyone?] … but the biggest part is how much technology we still regard as luxury is over 30+ years old.

It doesn’t make me want a Granada, but it does help me feel less foolish rating them in 1984.


The Difference Between Design And Creativity …

As I’ve written many times, I am a huge, huge fan of design.

Frankly, I have seen more great things come from the design community in the past few years than advertising.

Of course there has been some great advertising, but in terms of solving problems in magical ways, the design industry seems to be more progressive than a lot of adland.

Part of that is that is because a lot of adland believes their job is to make ads to solve problems rather than embracing the possibilities of creativity … however I recently saw something that reminded me the difference between great design and great creativity.

Good isn’t it?

Captures the pain, sadness and horror of the terrorist attack in New Zealand in such a gentle, tender, authentic way.

You see what this work tells me is that while great design communicates a single thought with great clarity, great creativity communicates a 1000 feelings with great emotion.

As much as we need more great design, we also need more great creativity in our lives too.

That’s down to us.

What we do. What we fight for. What we protect.

It’s A Matter Of Taste …

Before I start, let me ensure your Friday is even better thanĀ if you were being bathed in a sea of Crunchies by letting you know next week there will basically be no posts as I’m going to be back in the good ol’ USA.

Now I’ve given you a deep sense of joy, let me rip that away from you with some bitching.

So I saw this ad for Kontor – a company that helps other companies find their perfect space.

Now I appreciate I have the style sense of an Australian [Boom Tish] but I must admit I am a bit confused regarding the image they’re using in the ad.

If it’s an example of an office environment they think is good, then I am afraid they’re badly mistaken.

It feels more like a hotel restaurant in any 3 star business hotel you can find across the US.

Or the Costa Coffee boardroom.

But if they’re trying to make it look like the sort of office environment a company would want to move away from … an office environment that Kontor can help them find … then I hate to say it, but it’s not bad enough.

Let me be a bit clearer …

Yes, it’s horrific, but in terms of an image for use in an ad on a tube, it’s no where near horrific – or nice – enough to make whatever point they want to make and so for the poor schmuck stuck on the tube looking at it, you end up wondering if Kontor have as bad taste as me both in terms of what they hate and what they love.

Back Where It All Began …

So today I start my new job.

In England.

The last time this happened was in 1989 which blows my mind.

Of course, this situation is quite different to the last situation.

I’ve had a family.

I’ve lived around the World.

I’ve worked – and started – a bunch of companies.

I’m slightly better off than I was back in the late 80’s.

And while I enjoyed my time in the US, I’m very excited about what I’m going to be doing because whereas previously the big opportunity for me was more around understanding different cultures, this new role gives me that while also challenging and teaching me about possibilities that go beyond my areas of experience, because today I start as the head of strategy for R/GA for EMEA.

There were a bunch of reasons for leaving America, but one thing we knew was that there was no point if I wasn’t going to be enjoying myself.

For enjoying myself, I mean pushing me, challenging me, educating me and helping me make a bigger difference than I thought I could make.

I’ve long admired R/GA – especially R/GA London – so when we started chatting, I was fascinated about the opportunity and was incredibly happy/surprised, to learn they seemed to feel the same way.

Quite frankly, while all agencies talk about ‘creating cultural change’, R/GA seem to be the only one trying to make it happen on an ongoing basis. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some agencies out there who definitely help shape cultural behavior and attitudes – like my beloved W+K – but R/GA want to create the ideas, systems and communication that can encourage longer term cultural change rather than momentary effect.

At the end of the day, the idea of working with smart people who want to use creativity to impact the future and smart clients who want to walk towards the future was hugely infectious for me, especially at my age.

What makes it even better is that my remit means I’ll still get to work and discover different cultures, which is something I’ve done for the past 20 years all around the World … though given it’s been 24 years since I’ve lived in the UK, I’m pretty sure I’m going to find it fascinating understanding what is making this country tick.

All in all, I’m super excited.

At the interview I was asked why I wanted the job and I told them about a friend of mine who works for architect extroidinaire, Sir Norman Foster.

My mate is disgustingly epic … smart, charming and as handsome as hell … but despite all those enviable attributes, the thing I’ve always been jealous of is that his job requires him to create stuff that will outlive him.

I love advertising.

I think it is massively undervalued.

But the way the industry is going – focusing on the present, not building for the future – is scary as hell.

Not just in terms of the longevity of adland, but the ambitions of brands.

So to have a chance to work for a place that attracts clients who want to build rather than just plunder is very exciting for me.

Especially if there’s a shot of creating something that could outlive me.

Let’s just hope I can fool them into thinking I’m worth keeping around for more than a week …

Given my love of chaos, that might be over-ambitious.

Innovation Is About Opportunity, Not Just Necessity …

So I’ve seen something that – to me – is one of the best bits of innovation I’ve seen in ages.

Admittedly, it’s something that has kind of been done before.

And has a limited audience.

And probably a short shelf life.

But I love it because it shows innovation is not just about what you do, but what you see is possible to do.

What am I talking about?

This …

Or, more specifically, this …

What you’re looking at are the handlebars to a Micro scooter, the sort of scooter favored by my 3 year old son Otis and wannabe-hipsters who really should know better.

Now normally these handlebars have some ‘grips’ on them like this …

… but recently I saw they offered an alternative range and it’s this that I’m blown away by.

You see someone saw that the Micro Scooter handlebars are made of a hollow metal tube.

So far, so boring.

But what someone realised was that with a hollow tubular handlebar, they could make a grip that looked like this …

For those who can’t quite tell, it’s a grip that turns the handlebars into a horn, like this:

I know it seems a small thing and I know you might not be as impressed by it as me, but I think it’s bloody genius … both for the fun it adds to the scooter and – more impressively – for someone seeing possibility in something most people would ignore.

And that’s my problem with a lot of what adland regards as ‘innovation’, because in many cases the starting point is to do something totally new rather than to see the possibilities in our everyday World.

Which explains why our industry often comes up with bullshit like Peggy while other people/companies/brands come up with brilliantly simple but effective handlebar grip horns.

Microsoft Are Microgood …

Microsoft used to be the joke of technology.

Or maybe the ‘beige of technology’ is a better description.

Creating products for mainstream mediocrity.

To be fair, that perception was driven more because of their marketing than their technology … but it’s fair to say they were certainly lacking that slick sheen that turned other tech companies into Rock Stars.

But a change has been happening in Seattle over the past few years.

OK, less on the marketing side and more on the tech … but a change all the same.

Where other companies are trying to hype up small degrees of change, Microsoft have been trying to push a genuine innovation agenda. But not innovation just for the sake of innovation, but stuff that has a real purpose as demonstrated by their new controller for X-Box.

Now you may argue making a controller that helps those suffering from physical difficulties is a small market, but on a global scale I would imagine it adds up – especially when there is no real viable alternative out there. [Or one that I know of]

But that’s not the point here … it’s that they did it.

Even more than that, they did it with real understanding of the audience they’re catering to.

They spent time and money on producing a product that offers a genuine solution to people often ignored.

[You can see how this affected their process by going here]

For all the talk tech companies give about wanting to ‘help humanity move forward’, few do.

Or should I say, few do if it requires doing something that has a more ‘niche’ appeal.

Yes, I know some are doing stuff that we don’t know about, but to make a physical product specifically for this audience is a big deal … especially in this commercially obsessed World.

So well done Microsoft, this is brilliant.

Brilliant for millions of people who want to play but have been ignored.

Brilliant for showing the power of design to solve problems … again.

Brilliant at showing you use technology to evolve humans rather than devolve them.

Brilliant at being more innovative than your competitors.

Brilliant at making me feel more towards you than I have in years.

As I’ve said for years, products have done more to grow brand value than advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is hugely powerful and important, but it all starts from doing something good, not something average.

That used to be obvious. Sadly, I don’t think it is anymore.

It’s Called Artificial For A Reason …

So this is sort-of following on from yesterdays post.

Specifically the last line of yesterday’s post.

The bit about AI/VR.

You see a few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about the future by Frog Design.

No, I don’t know why they asked me either.

Anyway, it was a great panel and I learnt a lot of stuff but where things got a bit sticky was when the subject of AI came up.

OK, I was the reason it all got a bit sticky, but that’s because I feel companies are approaching AI with the sole goal of enabling the lazy.

Yes, it’s still early days but automating the most common/basic of tasks feels such a waste of potential.

I get they have to get people used to things before they can push them to new things, but to focus on such mundane tasks doesn’t naturally push the industry to explore the bigger possibilities of it.

My suggestion was that I’d like to see it being used to take people to new places.

New opinions … thoughts … possibilities … experiences.

More inspirational intelligence than artificial.

When you ask for news headlines, it reads you how different news sources see the same story.

When you ask for a countdown, it plays you music you haven’t heard before until the timer is up.

When you ask for the weather, it tells you some places you can go to, to take advantage of the climate.

In other words, make you benefit from the AI beyond the fact it’s performing a function that saves you approx 0.3 seconds doing. Kind-of like the premise behind user-unfriendly tech I wrote about a while back.

Of course to do this means that they have to do more than just follow the data.

It means they have to add something to it.

Context. Insight. Humanity. Creativity.

Things that companies are seemingly valuing less rather than more.

To be fair, Amazon are trying to do this with some of the more quirky aspects of Alexa … but I still would like to see more being done, because not only does this add real value to the tech, it means brands have a chance to build additional value with their audience rather than sit back and watch their engagement get less and less.