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


If There Was A Eurovision Door Contest …

… then surely this door would win it for England hands down.

Yes, I am writing about a front door.

Is this a new low on this blog?

It just might be.

So this door is a few doors up from our house.

To be honest, in all the time I’ve lived there, I never noticed it … and then one morning, it’s pinkness shone bring like a lighthouse against the cold, miserable, darkness of Fulham.

I don’t know why, but it feels quintessentially British to me.

Maybe it’s because of the tiles that lead up to the door.

Maybe it’s because of the gaslight lamp attached to the door.

Maybe it’s because of that single milk bottle nestled by the door.

Or maybe it’s because I swear I’ve seen doors like that in movies like Four Weddings And A Funeral and Paddington.

Who the hell knows, but it came together enough to make me want a pink door at my house.

Seriously.

And I swear if you asked me what colour door I’d want before seeing this one … I doubt I’d have ever suggested pink in a million years.

And yet seeing it in the flesh makes me feel differently.

Not because it stands out from the typical blues and blacks … nor because it feels showy or attention seeking … but because as much as I see the colour, it’s what the colour makes me feel that is enticing.

You see for me, I feel everything behind that door will be lovely.

Charming. Comfortable. Warm. Inviting … all the things you would want your house to feel.

Which all goes to show, features on their own are nothing if they don’t stir your emotions.

Clients could do with remembering that like I could do with remembering never to write a post about a front door again.



Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.



Creativity Is About Lateral Leaps, Not Literal Execution …

So while going through my photos, I found this screen grab from Dave Trott …

To be honest, I wrote about this a couple of years ago but if it was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now.

There is more and more work that just seems to be a literal execution of the client brief.

Not even the agency brief … but the clients.

Literal.

Contrived.

Feature focused.

I can’t help but feel their strategy is to bore people into submission, and while it may be argued this approach is working – probably because all the competition are following the same thing – the reality is the value of the brand gets diluted and so the long term success of the brand ends up being based on factors like price or distribution.

Of course, price and distribution always have and always will play a critical role in a brands success, but the inherent value of it is elevated hugely when you are in a position that people actively want it and seek it out. Yet, as I wrote a while back, it appears many brand managers are only focused on sales today without any consideration for the sustainable value of the brand tomorrow and if you are constantly harvesting your good will, eventually it will run out.

The big issue is so many marketers still think people are waiting for them to advertise.

That they are sat on the edge of their seat waiting to hear from them and buy from them.

That they have nothing better to do and all that they do do, is based on rational logic.

This approach says far more about the people behind the brands than the people they hope will buy from them and while I appreciate creativity requires a leap of faith – something some marketing folk weirdly feel is an act of corporate irresponsibility – the fact is society respond to [authentic] emotion far more than rational argument, at least in terms of communication, and so if they want their brand to move forward, the only thing that can counter spend, heritage and distribution is to embrace creativity and to do that properly, it means being Lateral, not literal.



Sometimes Quiet Is The Most Powerful …

Well I’m back.

The good news is it’s already the last day of the first full week back at work.

How good is that?

Well it’s probably too good, so let’s end it on a low.

I mean high.

I mean … oh who cares …

One of the things I’ve loved about British comedy is their ability to be utterly poignant.

I’ve written about this before but recently I was reminded of a scene in the last season of Blackadder that really got to me.

It’s from Blackadder Goes Forth … the series about WW1 … and it’s the final scene of the final show, as they are about to climb over the safety of their bunker to face certain death.

It’s not exactly the sort of scene you would expect in a comedy, and it’s not played for laughs, instead it captures the honor and bravery of the men and women who gave their lives for others wellbeing.

But as the scene ends, it crossfades to something else … something that both captures the tragedy of war, the futility of war and the sadness of war. It’s quite an amazing scene – especially given it’s quiet simplicity – and yet it works, which is even more remarkable given it was never in the script.

Originally the final scene was going to show the cast being gunned down and end – as previous seasons had – with their deaths, but a combination of factors meant the footage they took was so bad that it was almost unusable.

Without much time before the show had to be aired, they came up with an idea that didn’t require a rewrite or even new footage and yet it became one of the most famous and powerful conclusions to any show in British history.

As I have said before, sometimes the most powerful moments of creativity are born from adversity but when you know what you want to communicate, the reward can be something quite magical. Different … but maybe even more magical.



Argos Is Christmas …

When I was younger, I discovered the ‘Argos’ catalogue.

It was at my Grandparents house and it was a bloody revelation.

For those who don’t know what Argos is, imagine Amazon.com before Amazon.

A place where you can buy a huge array of products, all of which were featured in an annual catalogue which you could take home and peruse at your leisure.

[It’s also famous for little pens – now pencils – that you would have to use to fill in the forms to get the products when you went into the store. Pens/pencils that I would say everyone in England has ended up keeping at some point in their lives]

But for me, it only had 2 uses …

1. To get a glimpse at the future of technology.

2. To choose what I really, really wanted for my birthday/christmas.

Every time I visited my grandparents, I would run to where they kept the Argos catalogue and spend hours going through all the pages, gazing lovingly at digital watches, calculators, the emergence of hand held ‘electronic’ games and – eventually – computers.

Every year the catalogue came out, I would be see the advances of tech in front of my eyes.

But more than that, for the right money – I could have it.

Of course I – nor my parents – had the right money except maybe at Christmas, but a boy could dream … and boy did I.

I still remember the excitement the first time I saw Astro Wars … a handheld version of the video game Galaxian

It was like the impossible dream.

A full sized video game shrunk into a small box.

What sort of weird wizardry was this???

I still remember how a bunch of us at school saw it at the same time and we all knew it was the ‘must have’ present for the year.

I was incredibly lucky to get it that year … and while it was a bit crap, I still utterly loved it because to me, that was cutting edge tech.

[As an aside, I just discovered it cost £28 in 1980 – the equivalent of £100 today, so I am utterly gobsmacked I got it given my parents would have had to have saved up for months to afford that. So thank you Mum and Dad, I never realized it was that pricey]

Anyway, the reason I say all this is that Argos have recently digitized all their old catalogues.

And while you may ask yourself, “why?” and “why would anyone care?” you’d be wrong … because if you’re a person of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was not a book of products available for purchase, it was a place of imagination and possibilities and while the stuff inside the late 70’s/early 80’s catalogues are full of the sort of tat even a ‘Everything for £1’ store, would turn their noses up at, looking through them all again, I can honestly say it ignited the excitement I had back then.

Truly.

And yes, that means I really have spent hours trawling through them all.

Again.

And what’s more, I don’t care how sad that makes me.

It was a magical journey down nostalgia lane.

More specifically, nostalgia that was specific to my life, not just everyone else’s.

America may have had Disneyland.

But us kids in Britain had the Argos catalogue.

You can explore the history of 40+ English imaginations, here and you can see why I think the Argos Christmas campaign – which links to the nostalgia theme of the old catalogues – is already the winner of 2019, below.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Happy Birthday Mum …

Yesterday would have been my Mum’s birthday.

My Mum’s 87th birthday.

That means she has been gone 4 years and frankly, that seems incredible.

So much has happened in that time …

From moving countries twice.

To changing jobs twice.

To selling our family home to buy a new one.

And while I am in a much better place than I was after the tragic days that she died, I still am prone to being hit by moments where her loss is almost overwhelming for me.

I wish she could have met Otis for real.

I still remember her words when I called her minutes after he was born.

I was incredibly emotional and she was so tender towards me.

Making sure I was OK, Jill was OK and Otis.

Asking if the baby crying in the background was her grandson.

Telling me how happy she was and how happy she was for us.

How she loved the name Otis.

And while she was alone in her home in Nottingham – wishing madly that she was with us – she still told me to go and be with Jill and my son because she was the most compassionate, thoughtful person I have ever known.

While Mum saw Otis on video chat, sent me countless emails/SMS’s about him and – for a brief while – was in the same room together [though sadly it was after she had passed away] … the fact is they never were together in the flesh and I would have loved to have seen that happen.

To see her face as he called her Nona.

To watch her smile he wrapped his arms around you and gave her a big hug and kiss.

To look at my Mum reading her first grandchild a story or walking him through the gardens and explaining the flowers or just watching him run around like a tsunami and then look at me with that look in her eye that tells me everything.

How he’s perfect.

How she loves him so much.

How she is so proud of me and Jill.

How happy she is right at that very moment.

That would be the best present for her – not to mention for me – and while none of those things will be able to happen for real, I will think about them tonight when I’m home and giving Otis a big hug and kiss, because while there are many things I can do a whole lot better at, my Mum [and Dad] taught me one thing I am very good at.

How to love.

Happy birthday Mum, I miss you so much.

Hope you and Dad are laughing and holding hands.

Rx