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


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.



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.



Premium Disaster …

So before I begin with my post, I have some good news …

This will be the last post for 13 days.

THIRTEEN!

I’m in China all next week and then when I return, I’m having 3 days off – of which one of them is to celebrate Otis’ 5th birthday!

Five. Can’t believe it.

Anyway, I know I’ve just made your impending weekend more enjoyable so have fun and see you when I’m back on the 12th … though there will be a special birthday post the day before for my little one.

So now back to the post …

One of the things I hate is when a client mistakes being premium priced for meaning they have premium customers.

That just isn’t true, even more so now with the access to finance. Seriously, it’s like banks deny the 2008 crash never happened. Mind you, when you’re bailed out by the public, it didn’t.

Anyway …

Being premium priced – especially when the brand is in a mainstream marketing and comparing themself to mainstream competitors – simply means you cost more.

There may be reasons for that cost premium.

Great and valid reasons … but that doesn’t mean the audience who are buying the products are more sophisticated or educated.

If anything, it might be the opposite.

Some may be doing it to overcome their insecurities.

Some may be doing it to satisfy their delusional ego.

Some may be doing it because it represents something they’ve worked – and work – hard for and want to protect or defend or nurture.

But whatever the reason, the vast majority of people who choose these brands are, in the main, everyday people who justify the price premium because they offer something additionally appealing – be it professional, functional or emotional.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is nothing unappealing about this.

In fact, it is an amazing, given we are talking about people making decisions that cost them more because something is so important to them.

And yet so many marketers want to feel their customers are the wealthiest and most discerning of all, ignoring the fact that if that were true, then their product wouldn’t be premium priced, because for the wealthy, it would be cheap.

I recently had a meeting with someone from a mainstream, mass market brand who tried to convince me their customers were the 1%, despite all evidence proving otherwise. They also tried to claim their marketing was ‘high-brow’ as it meant only the wealthy would truly ‘grt it’.

That’s right, they were suggesting intelligence was linked to wealth.

I know a lot of people may believe that, but even if it were true – which it isn’t – they are mistaking wealth for opportunity … which I appreciate is becoming more and more influenced more by being able to afford a private education given governments are underfunding state options, ignoring the fact an educated population creates greater possibilities for the entire nation.

I digress.

Again.

Sorry, it’s just these are subjects that make me so angry and upset.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much fun I had putting them right … how much I enjoyed explaining to them that their audience were far more in line with average household income than the 1% … but at the end of the day, I know it was all in vain because every single day, I look at ads and see ‘premium priced’ brands acting like their customer base are better than everyone else, which ultimately demonstrates marketing is less about understanding your audience and more about comforting the boardroom ego.



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



If You Want To Be Treated With Respect, Treat Others With Respect …

I appreciate what I’m about to write is something deeply important to me.

I’ve written about this situation before.

[Actually there’s tons of posts about it, so if you’re interested, click here]

Hell, I even started a lobby group to try and stop it.

But a few weeks ago, I was reminded how much needs to be done.

Or said another way, how bad this situation is becoming and – if government figures are to be believed – how much bigger it will become.

I am talking about homelessness.

More specifically, societies apathy towards it.

Now I posted this story on Linkedin a while back and was met with a bunch of abuse.

People saying I was trying to ‘big myself up’ for giving to the homeless.

People saying I was threatening and bullying to those who don’t.

People telling me to remember that we are all going through situations others can’t see – and so to expect everyone to help is bordering on ridiculous.

I get it … I’ve written about that too [though I can’t find the bloody link to the post that specifically dealt with this] and I accept that while I was not in any way trying to ‘big myself up’ about giving to those who need it, I get it could be construed that way – especially if you don’t know me.

But – and it’s a big one – while I absolutely appreciate it can be confronting to have someone stand in front of you asking for help [and that may also trigger all manner of personal issues from people’s past] the actions and reactions I’ve seen over the years [and specifically in the last year of London public transport] would seem to suggest that either the vast population of London is going through that or they.just don’t care.

Are there other possible reasons for it?

Of course.

Lots.

But my point is that ignoring the homeless has seemingly become the ‘method’ and all I am endeavoring to do is to shock people out of this malaise and maybe realize their situation – however bad – is not as bad as theirs.

Please note, I’m not even talking about money or food, just acknowledgement that the person in front of them exists.

Nothing brought this home to me again than a situation a few weeks ago.

An elderly homeless lady very politely went around the tube asking for help.

Every one of these people, every single one acted like she didn’t exist.

Didn’t even lift their eyes up.

Fortunately I had some money and food on me so I was able to help but even if I didn’t, I would have had said I was sorry I had nothing. Not to make myself feel better but for her to know she was seen … that she existed … that she mattered.

Now I know some will say there are many people who pretend they’re homeless and make a ton of money out of it – but apart from that being the bullshit spouted by the Daily Mail – anyone who has to ask strangers for help day in, day out just isn’t doing well.

Let’s hope it never happens to you.

Let’s hope you never feel like you don’t exist and have no value.

Let’s hope the people who have countless reasons not to give don’t close their mind to the issue at hand.

As the title of this post states … if you want to be respected, if you complain about people not giving a shit about other people, then maybe you want to start with your behaviour rather than blame everyone else.



It’s Time To Say Goodbye …

So the time has come to close the door on the house I grew up in for one final time.

I’ve written the reasons for why this is happening in the past – as I have the reasons why the house was, and always will be, be so important to me – but it is the beginning of a new chapter for my family and my Mum and Dad would be so happy.

Anyway, we went to visit her one final time.

While the garden remained pretty much as my parents left it – thanks to us having a gardener visit every fortnight for the past 4 years [and we’ve taken a couple of things from there to plant in our new home so we will forever be connected] – going into the actual house was a very different feeling.

Part of it was because there was nothing in it.

No furniture.

No people.

No noise.

And so the overall effect was the house felt smaller … more fragile … and yet, as I walked through each room, there were so many emotions going through me.

As I watched my son run through the place holding his toys, I could see me – probably at his age – doing the same.

I saw where my Raleigh Grifter was waiting for me in 1989, on Christmas day.

I could see where my Dad – and then Mum – would sit in the lounge, on their rocking chair.

I could hear my Dad shouting ‘it’s ready’ from the kitchen our Saturday Beefburger was ready for scoffing down.

I could see my old clock radio when I was in the ‘small bedroom’ and my big stereo when I got ‘upgraded’ to the bigger room.

I could see the bed Mum and Dad slept in … where I would sit by them and chat throughout my time in the house.

Mum and Dad’s bedroom was especially poignant to me.

Regardless what happens in the future, it will always be ‘their room’ as they used for the entire time they were alive [and I was around].

Below is a photo of their empty bedroom that I took.

I’ve superimposed another photo of Otis that I took on the day after Mum died.

He’d just flown with his Mum overnight from Shanghai and he’s lying on the side Mum used to sleep on, looking at a painting of a mother and her child that hung above her bed.

He never got to meet her in person – he was supposed to a couple of weeks later when she recovered from her operation.

Alas it didn’t work out that way which is why this photo is so precious to me and why I feel, in a weird way, they did get to be together – hugging each other tight – if only for a second.

Another thing that got me, was when I went to the garage.

When we were having the house refurbished because we wanted to help a family live in a good area, we wrote a message on the wall about how much that house meant to us.

Well, when we checked at the weekend, we saw the tenants had left their own note and I have to say – it got to me because while my life is moving on, it was built in those 4 walls and I hope it does the same for anyone and everyone who lives there.

Thank you Mum.

Thank you Dad.

Thank you house … you will always be treasured.