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


Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …

__________________________________________________________________________

Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.

Everything.

And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.

Advertisements


May The Forth Be With you …

I know this is late but then everything on this blog is late, but I absolutely love what Heathrow Airport did on 4th May.

I love it for many reasons.

But the main one is they did it right.

Sure, you could argue what they did was to hijack the day and gain some extra publicity … and I’m sure that was part of their motivation … but what I really like about it is how they went for the highest common denominator, not the lowest.

While the board features names most people will understand – R2D2, Wookie, Death Star, Han Solo, Leia – they have also used elements that only the true Star Wars nerd will get … like the name of the planets, the measurement of time and the weather conditions.

What this means is that not only will they get ‘mass appeal and coverage’, they will also make the hardcore nerds feel good about it … feel they’re dealing with an organisation that really gets them rather than just pretends to.

In a World where marketing is too often expressed as a constant stream of generalised noise … those who show their authenticity through actions and behaviour will win big every time, because as we saw in our America In The Raw study, the future of brand differentiation is going to be less about unique product attributes and more about demonstrating how you truly understand your audience.

Or said another way, resonance not [pretend] relevance.

So well done Heathrow, you deserve to be in a galaxy far far ahead of your competitors.



How To Know You’re Improving …

A few weeks ago, I ran a planner training session – with the amazing Paula Bloodworth – in Amsterdam.

The theme of it the session was this …

When we first presented the image, you could tell a few people were wondering what the hell I was going on about.

It was a training session … designed to help planners make less mistakes, not more … but they were missing the point.

Planning isn’t about perfecting.

It’s not even about differentiating

It’s about making things happen … moving things forward … opening new possibilities … increasing value [copyright Weigel] and you don’t get to that if you just stick with the traditional approaches, practices and goals.

Of course this doesn’t mean you get to be an irresponsible dick with someone else’s money, but it does mean you have to look at problems in ways that normal approaches may not get – or even appreciate – and to do that, you need confidence.

Confidence in your abilities.

Confidence in feeling uncomfortable.

Confidence in making others feel uncomfortable.

Of course, at the end, you have to pull it all together because not only are you not going to get a client to try something without the chance of great reward, they need to know there’s method behind your madness … and while you might not always achieve the result you all wanted, ‘failing’ because you were pushing for something great is rarely failure, because not only do you all get a shitload of learnings from the exercise [learnings that can get you over the line next time] but you often end up opening a door to a World the whole industry never imagined and now wants to run full-pelt through.

In other words, you are pushing things forward not keeping things the same.

Which all helps explain why I believe planners should aspire to make better mistakes rather than succeed at average levels … because while consistency may get you the promotion, confidence creates the possibilities.



Photographic Planning: A Picture Tells A Thousand Presentations …

One of the best things about moving to America was that we were able to bring most of the stuff we had in storage around the World back to one place for the first time in over 15 years.

While opening boxes upon boxes of DVD documentaries was a bit heartbreaking given they are now all available online for free, there was some delight and one of those was getting my hands back on this …

Sign of the Times is a brilliant book by photographer Martin Parr.

Martin Parr is one of Britain’s most significant photographers, best known for his sharp eye and cheeky sense of humour.

Over his 30+ career, he has focused on capturing ordinary people doing ordinary things and because of this, he has become known as a social commentator and recorder of Britain’s finely nuanced class system.

In the 90’s, the BBC aired a documentary called Signs of the Times.

In some respects it was an early version of reality television … a fly-on-the-wall documentary that aimed to document the personal tastes of people in their British homes.

50 people were chosen from 2000 applicants with a real focus on capturing a diverse range of ages, races, genders and social backgrounds.

Anyway, from that show came the book and anyone who grew up in the 90’s in the UK who sees it will resonate with so much of it.

Not just in terms of the aesthetic, but the energy, values and priorities of the times.

I’ve long been fascinated with this approach – we even did a similar type of project at Wieden in Shanghai – because for me, it not only helps communicate who we’re talking to in ways others can truly connect to but – because of the contextual lens – it provides additional insight into how the audience lives and what they value.

It’s why it was so important for me to make a coffee table book of photographs from our recent America In The Raw study, because while some probably saw it as an indulgence – especially given you needed to see the accompanying presentation to truly understand what we found and what we think brands can/should do – my view is that without it, you can’t truly connect to the stories that shaped our thinking and then all we’ll end up with is a deck rather than the influence for change.



Who The Hell Am I?
February 15, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Differentiation

So at Christmas I did that ancestory.com thing.

After spitting what seemed like half a bucket of saliva into a test tube, I sent off my results and waited.

A few weeks later, I received this …

Now either I’m the most Worldly man that ever lived [bottom image, where I apparently have roots in 150 nationalities] or there has been a mistake with my results because according to them, I’m 27% Italian but don’t register significantly as British at all [1%].

In fact I’m more Syrian than British.

And Polish.

And Ukrainian.

And German.

In fact I’m apparently mainly European Jewish.

Now I know I have a nose for it but my Dad’s family was longterm English and my surname is that well known European Jewish name, Campbell so I’m really not sure what’s going on.

What’s weirder is my wife – who, let’s not forget, is a bloody Australian/Canadian – took the test and she is 60% British.

SIXTY PERCENT.

Now I know England owns Australia and Canada, but how the hell can she be more British than me … someone who has a British father, British grandparents, British great grandparents and spent the first 25 of his life there?

The only positive is that I can now pretend I’m an International Man Of Mystery … or I can until I take the test again [because I’m convinced I ate some peanuts that somehow screwed with the results] and find out I’m 100% idiot.



When Science Fiction Becomes Science Fact …

So Elon Musk’s SpaceX company successfully launched his Falcon Heavy rocket.

I was interested for many reasons, most notably for the fact that when he launched his previous rocket – I saw it but didn’t know what it was, so my brain got bent out of shape as I tried to work out whether it was an alien invasion, a Korean rocket or just a Hollywood stunt.

As it did to many others too.

For the record, to make sure Otis wasn’t scared by his parents and odd-parents reaction, I told him it was Santa doing a ‘trial Christmas run’.

He didn’t believe it … which is impressive because at that stage, none of us knew what was actually going on.

But this launch was different.

Bigger. More innovative. More spectacle.

And as amazing as all that is, what I found the most fascinating was how they made the booster rockets return back to earth.

IN UNISON!!!

I’m not saying this just because it’s the sort of thing you only expect to see in a JJ Abrams movie, but because by doing that – he just reduced the cost of space exploration from NASA’s billion dollar a flight price tag, to about 90 million.

Incredible.

But there is something even more wonderful.

No, I’m not talking about the fact it’s made me write the most topical post in this blogs history, I’m talking about how it has reignited the imagination of people around the World.

Shifting the aspirations of tech from making a billion dollar app to literally changing the potential future of the World.

Of course you need a lot of money to do that, but everyone has to start somewhere and as long as Musk continues to show how to do this with responsibility and humour for the benefit of the planet [unlike how he conducts his personal life], then I think he has just introduced humanity to an incredibly exciting chapter in it’s development.

And boy do we need that.



Forewarned Is Forearmed…

Just before we started cynic, we got our hands on as many agencies creds decks as we could get. The point was we wanted to see how our ‘competition’ were positioning themselves so we could both learn about who they were and ensure what we did was not going to mimic anything that had already said or done.

We needn’t of worried.

The reality was the vast majority of agency creds all said the same thing.

Literally … the same thing.

Bar the logo in the bottom left/right hand corner and the case studies they showed, they all talked about how many offices they had, how many people they employed, their propriety tools, their effectiveness [which often was very questionable] and their management team.

And it went on.

And on and on and on …

Excessively long, contrived, mundane, corporate monotone, egotism aside … what shocked us most was how few talked about the value they placed on the quality of the work and their philosophy behind what made good work happen.

So when we came to creating our creds, the first page anyone saw was the image at the top of this post.

[For the record, it wasn’t that exact image, that’s my instagram ‘square’ pic of the 9 individual pieces of artwork that we had around the office that I only recently got my hands back on. Thanks Billy]

Now I am not denying it was a bit confronting.

And now – with experienced eyes – it smacks of trying a too hard to be noticed and different.

But the purpose of it was three-fold.

1 We wanted to ensure no one could mistake us for anyone else.

2 We wanted to make sure our work always represented our beliefs.

[Because we had read too many creds where the words didn’t match the output – indicating they were either delusionists or illusionists]

3 We wanted clients to know the majority of people they wanted to engage with, wanted them to leave them alone.

Part of that was because they had a ‘blanket’ approach to targeting – despite claiming otherwise.

Part of that was because they had a superficial/egotistical attitude towards why people would care.

Part of that was because they saw work simply as communication rather than building something bigger.

And while cynic has been dead for 8 years, I look at that image and think it’s still pretty relevant, which is pretty tragic, especially when you think about all the research, processes and tools adland likes to ‘big itself’ up about.

And that’s why I suggest to anyone looking to change agencies that before you make any decision – you should ask to see their creds.

Of course that shouldn’t be the only reason you choose a job, but seeing how they present themselves to others is possibly the quickest way to see what reality is truly like … especially when you filter it through the body of work they actually ended up putting out into the World.