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


New Is Easy, Right Is Hard …

I recently read an article on Linkedin about an agency launching a ‘world first’.

Was it something to save humanity?

Nope.

Was it something to help business?

Nope.

Was it something designed to get the agency some PR even though it had no intrinsic value to culture?

Absolutely.

All that aside, I do get the quest for ‘first’ from agencies perspective … they want to look like they’re relevant, creative, interesting and valuable … but the great irony is that all this stuff does the absolute opposite.

So to dear old adland, I ask you this …

Could you please start being as proud about craft as you are about doing something ‘first’.

Craft makes a huge amount of difference.

It turns potential into possible.

It changes how people look at you and what they can do with you.

It creates division between you and your competitors.

Craft might not always get the PR headlines, but it makes people care – and given the alternative is World Firsts like that fucking Peggy Peg from a few years ago – that is a much better position to be in for all of our futures.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Could Everyone Associated With This Please Punch Yourself In The Face …

Have a look at this …

I’ve got to be honest, I think it’s one of the most amazing ads I’ve ever seen.

Not – of course – because it’s good, but because there’s so many things in it to hate, I don’t know which one I loathe more.

From the cliched photograph that is obviously trying to associate with street culture through to the absolutely fucking awful oxymoron/pun of ‘Future Retro’ and ‘Deja New’ … there is an endless amount of hate inducing triggers in this ad.

But even those things don’t come close to releasing my inner rage as ‘Time Tracker’.

TIME TRACKER!!!

It’s a watch. A bloody watch. Yes, they ‘track time’ but they’re attempt to make it sound like the future of watches makes me literally want to kill.

Oh I am thinking about how I’d do it.

Maybe a wooden post so I can smack them around the head.

Or maybe a canon, so I can shoot them far, far away.

Or maybe … oh hang on, I know what I’ll do … I’ll make them wear that ‘time tracker’ and refer to it in the same way, so their shame will be all encompassing and complete.

Time Tracker is a perfect example of something I’ve been seeing more and more of … repositioning that isn’t repositioning.

Repositioning is about helping culture look at your brand in a totally different way.

When Wrigley’s chewing gum moved from being a sweet to a dental care product … that is repositioning.

When Poloroid cameras shifted from photography to being a social lubricant … that is a repositioning.

When Old Spice moved from being used by men to being valued by women … that is repositioning.

A watch going from telling the time to tracking the time is not.

And yet I am seeing more and more work that is trying to position themselves as a catalyst for change when they’re doing nothing but re-articulating the category expression.

One of the categories doing this the most is the financial sector.

There are more new ‘banks’ than at any point in my life.

All with quirky names.

All claiming to be revolutionizing the industry.

All stating they are being developed around the needs of their customers.

And yet not one of them seems to realize that as much as they’re trying to be seen as disrupting the banking industry, they’re doing it in exactly the same way as everyone else.

Disruption but without distinction.

But here’s the thing, are they even disrupting … because so many of them are trying to communicate you can ‘trust’ them. I get trust is important wherever money is concerned, but it is also the backbone of the industry … so in essence, they’re saying ‘we’re different’ and yet they are communicating in exactly the same way as the establishment.

In essence, they’ve become the beast they claim they were created to slay …

But they’re actually worse, because not building any distinction into their offering or behaviour except their name and choice of pastel ‘brand’ colour means all they are really building is commodotisation.

Of course that’s probably because their business plan is to be bought by the establishment and so they don’t care about long term thinking, but this – just like the idiots behind that Nixon watch – is the new ‘best practice’ for brand and business strategy.

And we wonder why the business community questions our ability to talk business.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.



Management Is Directing, Not Dictating …

One of the things that really shook me working in the US was how hierarchal it was.

Of course I appreciate not all companies are like this, but in my experience, there were a huge amount who were.

Where the person with the highest title won.

Regardless how right – or wrong – they were.

And what this led to was a bunch of talented people opting for the easier life.

Where they did what the most important person in the room wanted, because ultimately it meant they would have less stress and could go home on time.

Or realised their career growth was about managing up rather than being great.

I don’t blame them – especially those who had families to feed – I just found it sad and alien.

Sad … because I saw incredibly talented people being restrained and restricted.

Alien … because I had been brought up to see management as enabling people to make the best work of their life.

Directing rather than dictating.

Creating the time, space and energy to let your team craft the work not focus on the politics.

But in America, this didn’t seem to be the case … it felt it was much more about following orders rather than solving the challenge in the most interesting and exciting of ways.

I kind-of wrote about this before, but the reason I’m saying it now is because I recently read a book that reminded me of some of the things I saw and – to a degree – experienced.

A book that reinforced why I will always love Wieden – and now R/GA – because they were founded by individuals who value creativity rather than devaluing age.

The book I’m talking about is called “Disrupted: Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Start-up Bubble” and was written by ex-Newsweek journalist Dan Lyons.

It’s a humorous tale of his experience working for the tech/marketing company Hubspot and – without giving anything away – it’s a total shitshow.

There’s a bunch of reasons for it … but as I read the book, I couldn’t help feel that many of them were because of this hierarchal practice that I saw in America.

It’s definitely a book worth reading because apart from just being enjoyable, it is super informative in how Silicon Valley works.

Even more specifically, how the finance of Silicon Valley works.

But if that doesn’t tempt you, then maybe this will.

You see Dan Lyons – the author – was a hardcore, tech journalist and yet when he joined Hubspot, he found himself in the marketing department. After experiencing the industry first hand, this is what he had to say about the conferences we love to go to and talk at …

“Marketing conferences are filled with wannabe gurus and ‘thought leaders’ who work themselves up into a revival-show lather about connecting with customers and engaging in holistic, heart-based marketing … which sounds like something I made up but is actually a real thing that really exists and is taken seriously by actual adult human beings, which makes me want to cry.”

Harsh?

Maybe.

True?

Definitely.



You Can Tell How Much The Finance Industry Thinks Of Us By The Products They Try To Sell To Us …

OK, I know banking is an easy target but – as anyone who has read this blog over the years will know – I am more than happy to throw darts at them.

Recently I came across this gem from Nutmeg … one of those financial institutions who give themselves a cool name so they can pretend they’re ‘down with the people’ when everything they say and do demonstrates the opposite.

Have a look at this …

Apart from the fact that they say nothing about what they do or how they do it – because, let’s face it, compound interest is hardly a unique offering – I’m just surprised they are saying that if you leave £20,000 for 40 years you’ll get over £140,000 at the end of it.

First of all, £20,000 is a lot of money.

Secondly, putting £20,000 away that you’ll never touch is an amazingly big ask.

Thirdly – and I don’t want to sound a dick – but I don’t know if £140,000+ sounds that much after a wait of 40 years.

Sure, I wouldn’t say no to it and I appreciate it represents a huge growth on your initial investment, but after removing the £20,000 you put in at the beginning, that works out to be a return of £3,000 a year.

OK, that’s not bad, but it’s certainly not enough to live off and certainly not the ‘most powerful force in the Universe’ that Einstein supposedly said.

And let’s not forget that little bit of copy at the top of the ad that say’s ‘Capital at risk. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance’.

Yes, they really are saying that everything they’ve just said could be a load of bollocks.

Imagine what else you could do with that strategy …

“Eat chips 10 times a day and could be beating admirers off with a shitty stick*”

[* Your health is at risk. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance]

Or what about this …

“Buy this skin care and you will look 30 years younger*”

[* Your self esteem is at risk. Forecasts are not a reliable indicator of future performance]

Why hasn’t someone thought of using this cross-category before???

But getting back to Nutmeg … my question is who is this ad aimed for?

Is it for people who are worried about their future and will put all their life savings away to get £140,000 in forty years time – ignoring the fact, that in 40 years time, £140,000 will be worth around £2.77 in todays money?

Or is it aimed at the wealthy … who can afford the investment, but probably expect even higher returns?

Honestly I’m not sure, but one thing I am certain of is that a financial organisation who doesn’t tell me why I should choose them over every other financial institution that also claims if I give them my money for 40 years, they’ll [hopefully] give me more back – but no guarantees – doesn’t stand much chance of getting any of my money.



When Y&R Had A Point To Prove …

Y&R is over.

Of course, the powers-that-be say they’re merging, but really they’re over.

This is sad for me.

Not just because I spent 4 years of my life with them and did some stuff I’m proud of with people I still respect hugely … from SONY to VB to Schweppes [the ad is here as it’s gone from the post] … but because there was a time where they really took a stand, both in terms of what they stood for and what they did.

Recently I found an ad they did for themselves …

Yes, you can argue it’s a bit dodgy, but apart from the novelty of seeing an agency practicing what it preaches [accepting an agencies work should be the best ad it does for itself] it’s interesting to see them celebrating how technology [read: data] and emotion [read: creativity] sit side-by-side in their company.

Sure, it doesn’t say what the computers at Y&R actually do.

They hint it finds valuable ‘audience stuff’, but for all I know, they might have actually been used to just type and/or design their ads on … but it’s the first thing I can remember where an agency proactively talked about the coming together/tension between data and creativity.

Of course it’s nowhere near as good or provocative as their 1965, Backbone ad [again, for themselves], but it is nice to see an agency have a point of view, which – ironically – is the very thing they stopped doing which contributed to them ending up as the back end of VML.