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


It’s Been An Honour …

After 7 years, today is my last day at Wieden+Kennedy.

Just as traumatic is that in 6 days, it will be my last day in China.

Or said another way, it will be my last day living in Asia-Pacific after 22 amazing years.

There’s honestly too much to say.

Too many memories to write about.

Too many people to thank and talk about.

So instead I’ll just say it has been the time of my life.

An amazing, spectacular, wonderful adventure both personally and professionally.

From marriage and babies to being part of work that defined World Cups and Olympics.

Wow.

It’s absolutely fair to say I will miss every bit of it but I’ll take the memories because it means I had the experience and for that I am truly grateful.

Now, because we’re in the middle of mad moving mode, this blog will be on a little hiatus for a few weeks.

Probably about a month. [Though we all know there’ll be the odd post here and there]

On the bright side, when it’s back – probably sometime in June, in time for my birthday [ha] – you’ll get to read posts that won’t just be about planning, but how I don’t understand how to make anything in America work.

I honestly think I’m going to find it harder to acclimatise to America than I ever did to China.

Hell, I can’t even order a cup of coffee without getting confused about their cup sizes.

So with that I want to sign off with a few little thank-you’s.

The reality is a huge amount of people made my time here amazing, however there’s some who had an even bigger influence and I want to call them out because the adventure I had – and am about to embark on – literally wouldn’t have been possible without them.

My wonderful planning team. Past and present. Every day was a genuine fucking honour. The awesome Kennedys. It was seriously the professional highlight of my last 12 months. Thank you. And that definitely includes you Juni. Kel Hook. For hiring me. You changed my life and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. Jason White. Thank you for supporting me even when I caused destruction. John Rowe. For being brilliant in every possible way and making my time at W+K Tokyo so good, I never wanted to leave. NIKE. I know that might sound corporate toady, but as I have nothing to gain from saying it, it means it is true. 99.7% of every person I met or worked with at Wieden+Kennedy worldwide … whether they are still here or long gone. Martin Weigel. You’re a cantankerous, warm hearted, brilliant man. Just propose to Mercedes and get on with it. Whiteside. Because you’re awesome and funny and humble and deserve so much and yet are happy with what you have. Clare Pickens. I love you. I literally fucking love you. [But stop cutting your hair because it makes you look shit] Sandi Hildreth. For being awesome and gorgeous and loving the same sort of rubbish music as me. Claudia Valderrama. For looking out for me even though you told me I was a “pain in the ass”. W&W, Azsa, Arlene and Max … for making sure I stay excited – and in awe – about the birth of amazing ideas. Gerber, for somehow – and I’m not sure how – influencing me to get tattoos. I came here with none, I leave with not enough. Simon Pestridge. Thank you for everything. In many ways, you changed my career and opportunities. You’re more than a great client, but a friend. Kim Papworth. For that talk that was totally worth the wait. Luhr. For being Luhr. Stech. For making your 6 months here, the most exciting 6 months for me full stop. David Terry and Paul Colman for trying really hard to be ‘alpha-males’ but actually being fucking sweethearts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Joe Staples. He won’t understand why, which is why. MJ. No, not Micheal Jackson or Michal Jordan, but Matthew Jung … for being a phenomenal Nike and Converse client who backed us to do the best work we can do every-single-time. Karrelle. For pretending to still be British when he’s basically American. Steve Tsoi for still welcoming me to the table even though I never made life easy for you or your team. Scott Silverman. You had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be here. Chris Jaques. You also had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the platform to show others what I could do. What I could be. Dan Wieden. For not actually firing me even though you said, “You’re fired” every time you saw me. And starting a place that is so special amongst special companies. Xiaoli. For everything you have done for us, but most specifically for the love and care you have shown my son. China … for being so important to global business that you gave me access and exposure to the sort of senior leadership few in the World will ever get to experience. The amazing, warm, slightly crazy people of China. I will absolutely miss everything about your unique ways. Except the spitting and the plane delays. And finally – and most importantly – my beloved Jill, Otis and Rosie. Without you guys, none of this other stuff would have mattered.

OK, the Gwyneth Paltrow bollocks is over … and to prove it, have a look at this.

Do you know what it is?

That’s right, it’s one of the 600 stickers I have had made that I have spent the last 5 weeks hiding throughout the refurbished Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai office. And I mean ‘throughout’ … including various W+K hangouts, like Baker & Spice, Jamaica Blue and Little Catch.

That should make their life a pain in the ass for a few years.

It will be like I’ve never gone.

And with that, it’s time to go.

It’s been a lot of fun. Time for an adventure in LA. God help us all.



Vanity Drives Insanity …

A little while ago, I wrote about how technology scared me.

It wasn’t because Facebook had served me an ad suggesting I may like to buy a Queen t-shirt that states I was born in the month of June … it was because it was hideous, even for me.

However recently, I was exposed to something even worse than that.

Something that technology was to blame for.

This …

OK, so these things are meant to be a bit of mindless fun … but imagine if you were Barack Obama or Chris Evans.

Would they think it’s ‘mindless fun’?

Mindless, maybe … but fun?!

Even if the technology behind this ‘game’ is simply randomly grabbing 2 celebrity photos and claiming the enquirer is a combination of them, it’s all a bit dangerous.

Yes, I said dangerous … which I openly admit, is a very over-the-top statement, but it’s my blog so I’ll call it what I want.

Oh yes.

Ahem.

So back to the point of the post …

You see there are a huge amount of people who are forever looking for evidence of their specialness and they adapt their reaction to news and events to suit.

A horoscope announcing the World will recognise your contribution to civilisation?

Met with a sense of positivity or – at the very least – hope, even if you try laugh it off to your mates. Trust me, if you’re reading it out for others to hear, there’s a part of you that believes it. Or wants to believe it.

A horoscope announcing this is a week where you will reveal yourself to have failed?

Met with a sneer and swear words.

The thing I found funny about this ‘which celebrity are you most like’ thing, was how many people did it and posted the results.

There were just as many people despairing about what was given to them as there was humble bragging.

The despair was written in a way where you felt the person was asking their friends for reassurance that they weren’t really a cross between Lassie and Britney Spears whereas the humble braggers wrote with a tone that tried to convey they’d found the whole thing hilarious while actually being smug their true spirit had been recognised by an online ‘game’.

And that’s why I love what I do … because while many think it’s all about listening and watching, I feel it’s about understanding and interpreting because so much of what we do is driven by what we are trying to hide [even from ourselves] rather than what we want to reveal.

As I’ve said many times, we’re all hypocrites and these shit Facebook things have a wonderful way of revealing it.

[But I really do think I have Chris Evans/Obama qualities. In my case, I’m positive it’s all true]



WiFi Wickedness …

Just to make sure no one is under the mistaken illusion that this blog is topical, I wanted to bring your attention to something that happened way back in March 2016.

OK … OK … I know for this blog, that’s pretty topical, but let’s put that aside for now.

As I’ve discovered over the years, the car industry may be one of the most competitive industries out there and nothing highlights this more than at Auto-shows.

Seriously, it often appears the focus of the manufacturers is simply to out-do the competition rather than try to engage the potential owner.

Anyway, at New York Auto Show last year [yes, last year] Audi set up a bunch of free Wi-Fi networks and gave them names that highlighted the A4’s features over the BMW 328i.

And because people are always scrambling for free wifi at conventions like this, a huge amount of people not only saw it, but got educated by it at the same time.

Simple, smart, evil.

Of course, this isn’t a new thing, just a smart thing.

A deviously smart thing.



Credit Where Credit Is Due …

One of the things that has always bugged me about adland is the ad ‘credit list’.

Sometimes you’ll read about a one-off print ad that has a longer credit list than a bloody movie.

Seriously.

Look, I get the importance of having your name on things – this is an industry obsessed with that – but it kind of gets ridiculous when people are mentioned because they put the stamp on the invitation for the client launch.

That’s why I always loved that Mother credited everything as Mother.

Sure, you could claim it robbed those involved in the making of the work from getting the credit they deserved – but I can tell you for a fact, there’s no way those people would be anonymous for long.

Of course the worst is when people take credit for things they didn’t really do.

Or big themselves up to make it sound like they were instrumental in what was created.

With that, I want to tell you a story that I heard from my friend – and creative extroidinatire – Kash Sree.

A long time ago – in the 80’s to be precise – there was a phenomenal writer called Richard Cook.

The creative director he worked for was notorious for not giving credit to the people who deserved it and had left Richard’s name off numerous previous pieces of well received work.

One lunch, the creative director handed Richard an ad and asked him to write some copy for it before he got back.

Richard – in a demonstration of his talent – wrote the piece over his lunch break.

It’s the ad at the top of this post.

The ad went on to win countless awards.

In an award-obsessed industry, Richard wasn’t exactly surprised that the creative director yet again denied Richard had anything to do with the work. So Richard unleashed his weapon.

He simply stated if anyone needed proof that he was responsible for the ad, they should read the first letter of every paragraph of the copy.

I’ll save you the bother. It spelled out ‘Richard Cook wrote this’.

Genius.



If You’re Going To Hijack, Do Something Interesting …

The ‘hijack’ strategy is now being used by so many brands that you have to ask if it’s even effective anymore.

OK, so when it’s done really well, it still has the power to impress … but so many brands are now doing it in such a half-baked way [often relying on the occasion to make the impact rather than the work] that a lot doesn’t even make a dent.

What’s even more annoying is this trend for brands to enter debates with no other purpose than to push their own agenda.

They don’t contribute to the debate.

They don’t add to the debate.

They don’t even care about the debate.

It’s all take, take, take … even though the media loves to claim “the brand is taking a stand about issues facing society”.

I’m looking at you Dove and your #AlternativeFacts ad … even though you’re far from being the only guilty party.

However there’s some brands who at least have the decency to make their exploitation amusing.

Sure, you could say Dove did that with the ad I’ve just criticised them for … but lets be honest, they’re not exactly known for going outside of their lane in terms of topicality and even though they could have easily turned this into a legitimate ad about their product credentials, they chose to go for the lowest common denominator. Possibly because it’s also award season soon. Possibly.

And that’s why I like this idea from Chinese teabag brand, inWE …

Yes, they are jumping on a bandwagon.

Yes, they are trying to gain free publicity from it.

But at no point do they try and claim it is some sort of political statement, which allows you to enjoy it for exactly what it is.

A bit of fun.

And the irony of this is it makes the brand far more likeable than all those others who try to hijack a cause or occasion to show they care.

Because most don’t, not in a way where they will sacrifice their profit for their cause.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in the power of ‘brand purpose’.

But saying you care and committing to it are – sadly – very different things which is why it’s kind of refreshing to find a brand who isn’t trying to claim it’s saving the World but simply having some fun with what they do.

Which some would argue is a ‘brand purpose’ … but then they tend to also be the sort of folks that call humans, brands.

They’re not. They’re humans.



The Shanghai Kennedys Graduate …

So last week – on Founders Day – we saw The Kennedys Shanghai graduate after 9 months of trials, tribulations and torture [their words, not mine]

What an amazing journey … for them as well as for me.

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t really know what I was taking on when I agreed to launch The Kennedys – Wieden’s creative talent incubator – but it has proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It’s been amazing.

Actually that doesn’t do it justice, it has been one of the most rewarding, exciting and creatively fulfilling times of my career.

Seriously.

Seeing these guys use their creative talent to brilliantly solve an amazing array of radically diverse challenges was an incredible privilege but the work they created was only part of the reward, because I also got to see how their journey affected all of them individually.

Watching them discover – and start to believe – in their own, individual creative voice was brilliant.

Not just in terms of how it affected the ideas they came up with, but also in how they looked at every challenge given to them.

At the beginning of The Kennedys, there was a sense of cautiousness – a feeling of concern they might do something wrong – but by the end, they didn’t give a shit about what others may think and had the confidence to go full force with whatever they believed.

Of course to get to that stage wasn’t easy … and yet the way we did it was.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was we needed the guys to feel they were in an environment where they were safe to be vulnerable.

Our view was that if they ever sensed they may be laughed at, criticised or ridiculed then we’d never get them to explore or experiment with where their creativity could go.

To achieve this, we told them we would never say ‘no’ to their ideas.

We could challenge them … we could ask as many questions as we like … but we could never, ever tell them their idea ‘is wrong’.

The second part was to give the guys challenges that made them vulnerable.

Part of this was to prove The Kennedys was a safe place for them to express themselves without limitation, but the other part was we knew the only way they’d discover the power of their truth was if they experienced real vulnerability and came out of it unscathed.

To do this, the first 3 months of assignments were made up of self expression exercises … from making a film about how you felt when you were made to dye your hair white, to creating art work about eating a live octopus to writing a resume of all your failures and an incredible amount of things in-between.

Now, I’ve got to be honest, a lot of people – including The Kennedys – felt I only did this so I could satisfy my evilness, but that is not the case at all.

When you see the creativity in the work they created later in the course – such as the takeaway coffee cup that turns into a frisbee for a local cafe that attracts lots of dog owners … to the Superhero toothbrush glove that makes 5 year old kids want to actually brush their teeth … to the innovation behind a Nike Shanghai Marathon campaign [to name but a few] – I’m pretty certain it was their comfortableness in their vulnerability that got them to this sort of work.

Nothing sums their confidence like their final assignment.

We asked them to come up with something they could leave at Wieden+Kennedy that defined what they had learnt over the course of The Kennedys.

In a perfect world, it would act as a legacy for them as well as an inspiration for everyone in the agency.

It didn’t take them long to sum up their 9 months experience with this turn of phrase …

“The freedom of creativity”

I liked that. I liked it a lot.

Their belief that creativity was about freedom and that freedom meant that any challenge could be met in interesting and intriguing ways was almost the perfect outtake from 9 months of bizarre and wonderful.

And so what did they do with their freedom of creativity?

This …

Yes … it’s a Street Fighter arcade game, but not like any Street Fighter arcade game.

You see the guys decided to reprogram the machine so it featured them as the fighters and included all their experiences over the 9 months of The Kennedy’s.

The characters.
The locations.
The challenges.

They’re all in there.

Including me … where my ‘special move’ is the F-Bomb, and a Birkenstock comes down to destroy everything in its way.

Cheeky bastards.

Someone at Wieden Tokyo asked me to explain what it was like and I said the best way to describe it was South Park on speed and LSD.

Seriously, it’s utterly mental and chaotic and for that alone, it perfectly sums up the journey and spirit of The Kennedys, let alone the way they used creativity to solve the challenge in the freshest of ways. 

But while it is absolutely awesome … what’s even better is the effort it took to make it.

I’m not talking about sourcing the game or even re-programming the game – though they were difficult in themselves – I’m talking about what they did to make sure it was all perfect.

For example, to ensure they could match all the animation of the ‘fighters’, everyone had to take thousands of photographs of themselves – in front of a green screen – in various poses.

THOUSANDS!!!

Then they needed to photoshop it all.

And then animate it.

And that’s before we get to all the other stuff like the background scenes … the animated story sequences and the re-design of the game cabinet.

At Wieden we have this phrase Fail Harder.

It basically means that if you are going to fail, make it because you were going after an audacious goal.

A goal that few would ever dare to try because they would see the obstacles rather than the opportunity.

This game – which they only had 3 weeks to pull off – is the perfect encapsulation of Fail Harder.

Except they didn’t fail.

In fact, it’s so good, I asked them to make another machine so I can have one for home. 

I’m thrilled they said yes … Jill, a little less so. Hahahaha.

Portland might have their “Fail Harder” wall but Shanghai has their “Kingdom of Chaos” Arcade game.  

I am in awe of these guys, I truly am.

7 strangers.
Over 9 months.
Given 21 individual assignments.
Producing over 140 pieces of work.

I couldn’t be prouder.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I couldn’t feel more honoured to have been a part of it and to have these talented guys in my life … even if they don’t exactly feel the same way, ha.

Of all the great things I’ve done at Wieden+Kennedy, this has undoubtedly been one of the best.

I’d go so far as to say it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So before I end this post, I’d just like to say a big thank you to the guys who helped make this a very special time in my life.

+ The Magnificent Seven … Carmen, Felix, Griet, Matteo, Meng, Quentin and Wenshu
+ Juni Zhu, the Patron Saint of Saints
+ Arlene Lu and Maxito, the dynamic duo and table tennis losers
+ Patrick Rockwell, also known as the fixer
+ Bryan & Yang
+ Azsa
+ Stone
+ Grainne
+ Nike
+ Boom Boom Bagels
+ Jill Barker
+ Paula Bloodworth, Northy and Marula
+ Yvonne … for never raising an eyebrow when we put in our weird expenses
+ Kim Papworth, Joe Staples and Richard Turley
+ John Rowe and Ryan Johnson in Tokyo
+ Blake Harrop, Alvaro Sotomayor and Judd Caraway in Amsterdam
+ Tony Davidson and Ryan Fisher in London
+ Vitor Abud in Sao Paulo
+ Wieden HR who didn’t say anything even when we made The Kennedys do very weird shit
+ Everyone at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai
+ Everyone who was part of the Kennedys in Amsterdam, London & Sao Paulo
+ Everyone who applied for the journey
… and finally David Kennedy [and Dan Wieden] who let this thing happen because on April 1st 1982, you started a company that believed in the freedom of creativity

If you ever have the chance to be in – or part of – The Kennedys in the future, whether that is in Shanghai or any of the other Wieden+Kennedy offices, grasp it with both hands.

It will change your life.

It did for me and I’m pretty sure it did for the 7 guys who were our guinea pigs in Shanghai.



Intelligence Humour …
March 27, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Cunning, Devious Strategy

… very much needed on a Monday morning.