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


Stop Thinking Like Engineers …

This is a topic that I’ve been bothered by for a very long time.

I touched on it last week in the post about my recent webinar for WARC.

It also formed part of the presentation I did with the amazing Martin Weigel at Cannes in 2019 … also for WARC.

Frankly, I’m seeing far too much work that is literal.

Literal in the problem.
Literal in the strategy.
Literal in the execution.

It’s like all the work is repackaging the client brief and just adding some fancy words, a bit of a gloss and that’s it.

No real understanding of the culture around the category.
No real distinctive expression of the brand behind the work.
No real lateral leaps in the creativity to make people give a shit.

It’s dot-to-dot communication based on lowest common denominator logic … and while I get it will pass research processes and client stakeholders without much pushback … what’s it actually doing for anyone?

Few will remember it.
Even fewer will respond to it.
And no one feels good at the end of it.

Don’t get me wrong, we have to make work that makes a difference for our clients.

I get that.

But that means finding out the real problem we need to solve rather than the solution we want to sell. Means finding out what how the subculture really uses the category in their life versus how the client would like them to use it. Means allowing the creatives to solve the problem we’ve identified rather than dictating the answer. Means being resonant, not relevant. Means having a point of view. Means dreaming of what it could be rather than what it already is. And – most of all – means letting people feel rather than just be told.

It’s why you remember Dancing Pony over that Vodafone spot.

Because while I’m sure both overcame all manner of research obstacles and client stakeholders requirements, there is one thing one campaign remembered, and it’s what Martin once said:

“You can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck”.



Does Colour Theory Reveal Your Insecurity?

One of the things I have always found fascinating is hearing how agencies explain their work.

It’s always so brilliantly detailed.

So articulate and precise.

So different to how any of the work I’ve been a part of came about.

In my personal experience, the process to the creative work has looked like this …

That’s right. A bloody mess.

Chaos rather than clarity.

Back and forth rather than a clear line.

Exploration and rabbit holes rather a smooth and efficient act of precision.

Got to be honest, I prefer it that way.

The idea of everything being so pure that you know the answer before you get to the answer scares the hell out of me.

Maybe that’s why I like giving creatives the best problem rather than a good solution.

Let them work out a way to solve it rather than expect them to just execute my answers.

The reason I say all this is because I recently saw this colour chart …

Putting aside that some of the brand/colour associations they’ve suggested make no fucking sense at all [ie: Nike = neutral/calm balance] it is interesting and frightening how much brands align with a colour stereotype.

Or should I say, a suggested colour stereotype.

OK … I’m being a dick, I know there is a lot of research in this field, but that doesn’t mean that just because your brand logo is in a character defined colour, you automatically convey that character.

But of course, this is what a branding company would say in their pitch …

“We chose orange as orange is a colour that conveys friendliness and we believe this makes you even more accessible”

But the reality is colour theory is the driving force behind logo colour recommendations, I would say it’s because of 2 reasons:

1. It’s how the brand wants to be perceived. [Ego]
2. It’s to hide how the brand is really perceived. [Fear]

Am I being a prick?

Probably. But as they say in the movie Dangerous Liaisons … people don’t answer questions with the truth, they answer questions in ways that protect their truth.

This is why I’ve always talked about ‘dirty little secrets’ … because often insights end up being about ‘convenient explanations’ of actions/behaviours/beliefs whereas the real driving force is something more personal. More conflicting. More interesting.

It’s why I find it far more interesting BP are in the green colour – nature, health and growth – than Animal Planet.

It’s also why I find BP far more differentiated than the friendly, orange colour of Gulf Petroleum.

Because while colour choice for logo design is important, anyone who tries to claim it defines what the brand is and/or how it is perceived in culture is either a fucking bubble-dwelling idiot, a ‘category convention’ sheep or someone who believes the Pepsi logo design strategy is up there with Leonardo Da Vinci.



A Picture Paints A Thousand Words …

For reasons I am unsure of, I have been asked to do a lot of presentations over the last few weeks.

From the board of directors of the World’s most notorious video game company to Silicon Valley VC’s to the social platform Trump is petrified of and a whole host in-between … I’ve been asked for my POV on all manner of things.

The role of technology in sexual education.

How technology can evolve how we tell stories.

Why the best way to be wanted is to be banned.

How experience design is increasingly built on efficiency not emotion.

How to create the environment where the best creative is allowed to be born.

It’s been so much fun …

Not just because it made me think about things or that I got to meet a bunch of amazing people, but because I could do the presentation entirely as I felt I wanted to.

It’s not that I have felt I couldn’t do what I believe was right, but over the last few years, there’s been a few people who have tried to convey a ‘this is how you should say things’ attitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, it takes an army to make an argument and you should always be open to other people’s thoughts and suggestions … but if you’re made responsible for giving the presentation, then you should get the final call on how you express it.

Having people more obsessed with how you’re saying things rather than what is being said is pretty depressing, but not as depressing when you realise colleagues can be more of an obstacle to great work than your clients.

When that starts happening, you start questioning things.

Often yourself.

Are you good enough?

Are you worthy enough?

And then, before you know it, you’re chipped into complicity by the constant stream of criticism … leaving you with no confidence, no self-belief and not much hope for where you’re heading.

I wrote about this a short while ago which is why I want to just reiterate, when you do the presentation you want, the feeling is infectious.

Not just to you, but to who the audience is.

Here’s some examples of the pages I’ve presented in the last few weeks …

And here’s the thing, they all went down very well.

Sure, some of them made the audience gulp.

But they also loved it because they knew I was saying was to try and help them win better rather than just kick them in the head.

And that’s the key.

Show you really give a shit about them.

However, while some seem to think you do this by pandering to the audience, I believe it is by giving them utter transparency and honesty.

Let’s face it, if you’re willing to do that to a client at a formal presentation – albeit doing it in a way where they understand why you’re doing it – then most of the time they’re going to respect you, even if they don’t agree with you.

I’ve had so many clients come to me/us who initially didn’t.

Because as my old, brilliant head of NIKE marketing said to me once,

“Middle management want to be told they’re right. But senior management want to know how to be better”.



So Much For Planners Having All The Smart Thinking …

One of the things that has always bugged me about planners is that some think they’re the only ones who are curious enough to see the World in interesting ways.

I’ve written about how much bollocks it is – not to mention how much it pisses me off – but in this world of social, it feels we are seeing more and more of the interesting points of view coming from outside the discipline than in it.

More than that, it feels we’re even seeing more and more of the interesting ideas coming from outside the industry than in it too.

From Rihanna creating make-up foundation that is suited to African American skin as well as white through to meme creators – such as Unchisenpai – questioning what is considered cheating in a world of global competition.

[Though their observation on how we came up with the word ‘boob’ is genius]

Now I appreciate that some of this is less to do with the talent in the industry and more the limitations placed on us by clients – though how that came about is another discussion for another day – but in an industry that is seemingly talking to itself more and more [see: planner twitter] the rule to creative inspiration remains the same:

Look for those who are doing or thinking interesting things rather than those who just know interesting things.

The things I’ve learnt from my time with China, Metallica and The Kennedys have been monumental in terms of seeing what creativity truly is, what it can do and what it can be.

It’s also helped me have a deeper understanding of how to nurture it, protect it, encourage it and liberate it.

This is not meant as a diss to adland.

I love the industry and accept it has been amazing to me.

I’ve learnt – and continue to learn – so much from the many amazingly talented and generous people who work, or have worked, within it. I detest how much the industry has been undermined and undervalued by so many when – given the freedom to do what it does best – it is capable of achieving equally incredible things.

This is simply a reminder that some of the most interesting expressions of creativity – and commerciality – exist outside of our bubble and if we continue to close ourselves off to it, or think we’re superior to it, then we’re literally limiting ourselves in terms of seeing and understanding what creativity can help us create, build and change.



What Adland Needs To Learn From Oprah …

Adland talks a lot about diversity and inclusion.

It talks about wanting to make a difference.

But while I appreciate the intentions are genuine, the actions often aren’t.

Too many superficial acts designed to make us look good without actually doing much good.

Self-indulgent acts that are designed to change nothing but make us feel like heroes.

Pieces of work that tell people what they already know so we can claim we are ‘living our purpose’ at the next global conference get together where the loudest applause is for ourselves.

I wrote about this recently when I found out Cocoa Girl – the magazine for little girls of colour in the UK – was the FIRST magazine for little girls of colour in the UK.

The first!!!

Well here’s another example of how poor we are as an industry following through on what we so loudly and proudly claim.

The top of this post features one of the 26 billboards Oprah has purchased around Louisville, in the US.

For those who don’t know the story of Breanna Taylor, you can read it here … but in simple terms, it’s another case of US Police racism that resulted in another innocent African American being murdered with – initially – no implication on the officers involved.

[And then, after a huge protests, the officers involved were arrested but ended up facing a fraction of the justice they deserved … meaning it was another insult to the Taylor family]

This is a case that has shaken America and beyond.

This is a case that needed pressure putting on the authorities to investigate rather than look in another direction.

This is a case that showed again the deep disadvantage people of colour have in America and all over.

What Oprah did is amazing but I can’t help but think adland could have done this.

Should have done this.

But we didn’t.

And while I am pointing fingers at us, I’m also pointing them at myself … because if we are serious about D&I, it’s about doing things that are in the best interests of the people we want to connect with rather than making it all about what is easiest for us.

Or said another way:

We have to commit … rather than just show interest.

Go out of our way … rather than make others go out of theirs.

What this brilliant act by Oprah reminds me is that creative and cultural inspiration does not come from just looking at ourselves. If we want to survive, we can only do that by letting more diversity in and letting them thrive on their terms rather than ours.