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


When Chocolate Advertising Left A Nasty Taste In Your Mouth …

So recently I went to a model village …

For those of you not from the UK, that doesn’t mean I visited an example of an exemplary village – one where only happiness exists within the community – I mean I visited a literal model of a village.

I know … I know …

I’ll save the reasons behind why someone would do that – and what I would visit it – for another day, though it does perfectly capture the English eccentricity that led to the Blackcurrant Tango ad, St George, that I wrote about here.

Anyway, while I was there, I saw this chocolate ad from the 30’s or 40’s.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this is the best ad for a brand I’ve ever seen.

Sure, they seem to suggest that their chocolate has almost god-like qualities for changing a customers mood from pain to pure, unadulterated happiness … but I’m not sure making your customer look like they are like Damien from The Omen is the best way to attract an audience – especially the photos on the extreme left and right.

Look, I like chocolate as much as the next devil child, but I don’t think I want something that suggests after consumption, it will turn me into some sort of beast that feeds off society.

Oh hang on, I do work in advertising.

And Fry’s proudly announce they make chocolate for the King and Queen of England, not to mention the Prince of Wales.

Plus, we shouldn’t forget they were behind that bloody awful ‘Turkish delight’ [I mean the chocolate AND the ad]

Shit, maybe this Fry’s ad wasn’t about trying to attract an audience but simply explain what their product will do to you.

And they say there’s no truth in marketing anymore …

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A Love Letter To China’s Wonderful, Beautiful, Brilliant Chaos …

Of all the places I’ve lived, China is the one that has left the strongest mark.

Frankly I absolutely and utterly loved my time there.

Sure part of that was because of Wieden – I loved and will always love them – but it was more than just that.

It was the people, the madness, the history, the chaos, the energy, the values …

Yes there were some things that bothered me immensely, but overall, I was intoxicated with the place and will always be that way.

I believe you can tell how much a place gets into your soul by how you react when it’s under attack. Not by guns, but by media and politicians.

If I look back on my 7 years there, I was very quick to jump to its defense when Western media decided to take an isolated incident and claim it represented the beliefs, behaviors and values of over a billion people.

Were there some shit things that happened there when I was there?

Absolutely.

Were there moments of madness and sadness that will never leave my memory?

100%

Are there some terrible restrictions on people lives and opinions there?

Sure.

But these are not isolated to China … every country has bad people doing horrific things, every country is creating an increasing division between rich and poor and in terms of government, countries either are doing their own version of ‘inflicting their will on the people’ or wishing they could get away with the stuff the Chinese government get away with.

I’m looking at you UK, Australia and the land of ‘the free’.

And that’s why I can still truly love the place and feel privileged for the experience it gave me.

I have absolute pride my son was born there.

Whatever happens in his life, he was born in China and for me, that means our links to the country will always be strong.

And while I will always be passionate in the pursuit of changing Westerners perceptions about the Middle Kingdom, there are some things that I just stand back and accept will just reinforce certain prejudices.

Some – like Uncle Martian – are terrible, especially as it was a conscious decision.

Some – like this, below – are perfection, especially as they were done in innocence.

[And if not, that’s even more genius]

China, I love you.

Lose the bullshit but please never lose your beautiful madness.



Netflix DataFucks …

Let me be clear, I really like Netflix.

I like them for the programming they make.

I like them for how they reinvented themselves when they saw their business die with DVD’s.

I like them for putting craft back into content and arguably making this the golden age of telly.

[Yes, I said TV, because some research said Netflix was mostly watched on the old box]

But I digress …

There’s one thing I don’t like about them and that’s how they talk about data creating the show ‘House Of Cards’.

I’m not doubting data played an important role in their thinking, but the way some people talk about it, data was the whole reason the show was made, ignoring the fact that a team of talented and creative actors, directors, camera men and film crew were needed to actually bring it to the screen. But even more than that, House Of Cards had already been made by the BBC years earlier, so it was an ‘update’ rather than a brand new creation.

However the main reason I doubt that narrative is that if data had proved to be so successful, why haven’t they done it again … and if they have, why is there no show that has had the same level of impact?

Alright, there have been a few that have definitely captured cultures attention, but they seem to be more because they’re talking about an event that captured the World’s attention [Fyre Festival] or simply offered a show featuring a Hollywood star at a time where people were desperately looking for content [Sandra Bullock’s, Bird Cage, which came out at Christmas]

OK, I’m being pretty unfair as Netflix is pretty awesome, but I suppose I just get wary of people claiming data made their creativity happen when the reality is [1] it didn’t and [2] if it did, then there is a hell of a lot of content on that network that is a great case for not relying on it entirely.

Data has a very important role to play in almost every industry, but when you claim – and trust – it can do it all without needing the understanding, imagination and craft of talented and creative humans, then you’re about as blind as the people who fail to see Bird Cage’s ending was rushed, contrived and massively underwhelming.



R/GA Get Me …

Starting a new job is always slightly unnerving.

You want to make a quick, positive impression but you don’t know how everything works so you often end up asking ridiculous questions just to work out how to get through the day. To make it worse, you know people are judging your every move and so you can often end up presenting a side of you that really isn’t you at the very time you need to be showing exactly who you are and what you can do.

So while I am still on my probation at R/GA, I was kind-of happy they said they wanted to take a photo of me so they could use it in some material.

The happiness wasn’t because I love my photo taken [would you with a face like mine?] it’s because by them wanting publicly acknowledge I work for them, it seems I’m doing OK.

I say ‘seems’, because this is the photo they have ended up using.

They took quite a few pictures.

Some are – even by my ‘hate myself’ standards – OK.

And yet they ended up choosing the most ‘mischievous, caught in the act of evil, I’m-going-to-fuck-with-you, prepare-for-hell’ photo they could find, which can only mean this is their way of telling me I have 3 months to convince them to keep me because right now, they think I am a bit of an asshole.

Unfortunately, this only makes me like them and respect them more.

Damnit.



Statements That Stick …

One of the things I love is building a planning team who is like a gang.

A bunch of intelligent misfits who all have unique ways of looking at the World but share a common philosophy in terms of what we want to do, change and impact.

I don’t care how people approach their challenges, I don’t mind if people aren’t the best of friends … but it’s important we have each others back and are open to offering opinion, advice and help if needed, even if individually, there is a healthy level of competition to do the best work of the team.

Of course, this is easier to achieve the longer you stay in a company as you can truly stamp your personality on the department but it’s not totally necessary … you just have to be clear in your beliefs, consistent in your actions and lead by example.

Now whether I’ve achieved any of this is something you’d ultimately have to ask the brilliant people who have worked with me at my previous agencies, but as I’ve started a new job at R/GA, I wanted to rally the team around a set of beliefs and language that can start unifying us more closely so I decided to make us all a set of stickers.

Yes, stickers.

I know … R/GA is an agency that wants to make the future … but apart from the fact we’re about creating stuff that comes from culture rather than ignores them, I have a new laptop that needs ‘customising’ so I thought stickers would be a perfect way to kill 2 birds with one stone.

With that in mind, each member of the team has received a set of the stickers above.

17 stickers that convey our philosophy on such matters as what we believe, how we work and what we want to do.

Some are obvious, some are maybe a bit more esoteric … but even if people absolutely hate them, at least I can say I’ve made something that truly has stuck – even if that is literal rather than philosophical – which, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes a pleasant change.



Nothing Says Thought Leadership Like Outsourcing Your Thought Leadership …

Anyone who has ever read this blog would know the last thing I’m about is thought leadership.

Maybe thought rambling, but not thought leadership.

However a company recently reached out to me about that very subject.

Not to hear my perspective on a particular subject, but to offer to tell me my perspective on a particular subject.

Is this AI on a whole new level?

No, it’s a company who apparently doesn’t like small talk and wants to get straight-to-the-point about offering me the chance to have them write an opinion piece for me and then get it published.

Not my actual opinion, I should add … but one they know they can shove in any random magazine because they’re desperate for content and get me to pay them for the privilege.

Oh, they drop some great magazine names.

Fast Company. Forbes. Tech Crunch.

But we all know the reality is 99% of the articles will be in stuff like the West Bridgford Gazette and the Illawarra Mercury.

I would love to know how many of these things they do?

How many ‘thought leaders’ are actually thought outsourcers?

And I guess I will because I’ve written to them to say ‘this looks amazing, please can you give me more information’, even though the reality is I already feel enough of an imposter without paying these bastards to rub it in.



You Either Are Building Or Destroying. Building Is Better …

One of the things I’ve found interesting over the years is how planners deal with creative reviews.

In the main, they fall into 2 groups.

1. The ones that tear things down.

2. The ones who lift things up.

What makes #1 worse is that in many cases, what drives their destruction isn’t the work doesn’t answer the brief, but doesn’t answer it in the way they imagined.

In other words, they’re acting like a Creative Director.

Don’t get me wrong, a brief is important – it’s something that not only gives direction and lets ideas be pressure tested, but serves as a historical document so people can see where things came from at some point in the future.

But – and it’s an important but – a brief is not law.

It is not something that can’t be changed, enhanced or thrown out and re-done.

The goal has to be the work and while briefs can work ‘in theory’, if the creative teams aren’t getting to ideas that ignite energy in people, then it’s time to look at where the brief is stopping creativity to flow.

That does not mean you post-ratrionalise whatever is produced, but by the same token, you don’t expect a brief to be answered to the letter, which is why I stand by the belief a brief should act as a direction rather than a destination.

And that’s why I like planners who ‘lift things up’.

Who look for the good in the work rather than the bad.

Not in a Paula Abdul ‘everything is good even when it’s not’ kind-of-way, but recognise the threads that could lead to something exciting and new … threads that encourage rather than dictate … threads that lets everyone feel you’re on the same team and want the same thing.

The reason I say this is because I recently saw a quote that I loved.

It comes from US politician, John A Morrison and he say’s …

“Knowledge may come from taking things apart but wisdom only comes from putting things together”.

I love this.

I love what it means and represents.

And that’s why I think planners need to spend more time on wisdom than knowledge, because while a major part of our job is finding out the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, if we don’t think of how those things can come together in interesting ways, then we’re not only limiting our own potential, we’re doing a disservice to where creativity can go and what it can achieve.