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


Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



Showing You Care Is More Important Than Saying It …

Throughout COVID, we’ve been inundated by companies saying they care.

Banks.

Supermarkets.

Pharmaceutical companies.

At the beginning, it made sense … we were in a new reality and everyone was trying to work out what the fuck was going on, let alone what we should do.

But now, coming up to 6 months into this thing, we’re still seeing companies say the same thing.

We care.

We really, really care.

Honest, we really do care.

And frankly, it’s all becoming shit.

Because while we always suspected it was empty words, now they are proving it … because the fact of the matter is this is the time they need to put up.

To do stuff.

To actually show they care.

Which, contrary to the multinational who is spending a lot on advertising right now, does not mean you can consider yourself a kind and generous organisation simply because you make and sell a large range of disinfectant products that are especially important right now.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting charity.

Making money is not a bad thing – and right now, companies need to do it to help keep employees employed. But adding something extra … something that can genuinely benefit the people you rely on would go a long way.

Not just because a lot of people need it right now, but because investing in your audiences wellbeing is investing in your own.

Take Timpson’s.

It’s a family-owned business in high streets and supermarkets up and down the country.

While they do a bunch of things, they’re most widely known for key cutting and shoe repairs.

That’s right, KEY CUTTING AND SHOE REPAIRS!!!

Of all the companies around the World, I would say this Key Cutters have led the way on how you should treat your people and customers in a crisis.

First of all, they made the decision to close all their shops – over 2000 of them – when COVID took hold. They wanted to ensure their staff were safe as not only do they deal directly with the public, all their stores are very small so social distancing would be almost impossible.

However, rather than making people redundant or putting them on government subsidised furlough, they covered the wages for every employee.

In full.

Every employee. Full salary.

To add some more texture to that, Timpson’s employ 5,500 staff … of which 650 come directly from serving a prison sentence … and their weekly wage bill is £2.5 million.

That in itself is amazing.

But then they’ve done something else.

Something aimed at their customers … specifically the one’s who have not been as fortunate to work at a company that takes care of their staff like Timpson and may now be struggling due to redundancy or loss of pay, hours, opportunities.

And what have they done?

This …

How amazing is that?

A genuine investment in their past and future client’s wellbeing.

Not empty words, something that will cost Timpson’s money – both in terms of time and cash.

Maybe it’s not a huge amount, but when you have all these huge corporations shouting their empty words in an attempt to look like they care, Timpson’s actions shows them up for who they are.

A long time ago there was a Michael Moore documentary called ‘Roger And Me’.

It was about the General Motors car company and them pulling out of Detroit.

There’s one bit in it that sticks in my memory.

On the production line, there were people being interviewed about what they’ll do when the factory closes. One guy – who was making one of GM’s most expensive cars – said this,

“What I don’t understand is if companies keep firing their workers, who do they think will be able to afford their cars?”

While I know there are many issues companies face, I know this.

The actions of a key-cutting, shoe repairer has resulted in me having more emotional connection and loyalty to them than I‘ll ever have towards multi-national organisations, spending millions of pounds on ads that attempt to show they care [read: express their designed-by-marketing ‘purpose’] but are so obviously self-serving, you can almost see them rubbing their hands in greedy glee.

Not because they want to make money to protect their workers.

Nor to look after the employees of their supply chain.

But to look after themselves and their shareholders.

And to them, I say this.

Your real ‘purpose’ is showing.

Try harder.



Even Nottingham Forest Are Embarrassed I Support Them …

So with COVID stopping football fans from attending games, my beloved Nottingham Forest thought of a fun way to help the players feel the stadium is full while earning some much-needed revenue at the same time.

The idea was simple.

Sumbit a photo of yourself and they’ll turn it into a life sized cardboard version of you to place on a seat.

Better yet, you can then come and collect it as a souvenir of your support.

Now I don’t need another life-sized cardboard cut out of me because years ago, I gave one to Jill as a wedding anniversary present to remind her who she was married to as I was travelling a lot.

It’s the pic at the top of this page. I know … and they say romance is dead!

However I did like the idea of supporting my team so I had a couple made.

Some of me.

Some of my mate who stupidly supports Derby County.

Anyway. over the weeks, Forest have been posting photos of the cardboard fans and I haven’t seen my face on any of them.

Oh I’ve seen my best mate Paul

… every bloody photo they put out, he’s there – upfront and centre.

But me?

Nope.

At first I reassured myself it was because they hadn’t printed mine yet.

Then I thought maybe they had lost my order.

And then, finally, I found one of them …

Yep, right at the back, carefully hidden behind other cardboard cutouts.

What makes it worse is that Nottingham Forest is not a glamorous club.

Even when we won the European Cup twice in a row, we were never sexy …

Which is my way of saying that for a club who attracts an unfair share of the visually unappealing, they have deemed me the most visually unappealing of them all.

Thanks Forest, thanks a lot.

Now please just get in the bloody playoffs … it’s the least you can do for me now.



Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last, But They Always Suffer Pain …

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Bobby Robson.

While I had followed his career as a manager – especially during Italia ’90 – I didn’t know many of his life’s details.

He had always come across as a kind, considerate man … maybe too kind and too considerate … but given his achievements in the game, it’s fair to say it worked for him.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, there were two things that really hit me in it.

The first was the people who went on camera to speak about him.

I’m not talking about his lovely wife and son, but football elite like Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho, Shearer, Lineker and even Gazza.

All to a man, talked about his character … integrity … compassion and humility.

For that to happen means you had to be something special.

But it’s the second part that led to the title of this post.

You see Bobby Robson went on to manage Barcelona.

Apparently he had previously turned them down twice due to his loyalty to the teams he was managing before, but on the 3rd ask – he said yes, even though it meant he had to follow in the footsteps of the great Johan Cruyff.

To be honest, this added a huge additional amount of pressure on him and fans were initially very skeptical about his tactics and style of play. But he won them, because he showed he loved the club and the region, he desperately wanted them to win and he conducted himself with nothing but compassion and dignity.

And this all turned into some iconic achievements and actions …

He brought Ronaldo to the club and turned him into the most famous player of his generation.

He won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and European Cup Winners’ Cup all in one season.

He offered to pay part of his salary to cover the cost of his assistant manager, Jose Mourinho as he wanted him there so much.

He turned down approaches from other clubs because he loved Barcelona and wanted to honour his contract.

And then, just as he was ready to use that season as a launchpad to achieve even more, he discovered the Barcelona chairman only ever planned for him to be manager for one season.

ONE.

Like a buffer manager between Johan leaving and the next dynasty of Barcelona.

Imagine discovering that.

That you’re only seen as a ‘stop gap’.

To make it worse, they weren’t going to get rid of Bobby, they were going to ‘move him upstairs’.

Oh I am sure they thought that was a sign of respect, but it was anything but … especially with how they did it.

You see the manager they brought in was Louis Van Gaal.

Without doubt, an excellent manager … but not only was it a smack in Bobby’s face, they made Bobby attend his unveiling.

Like attending your own funeral.

And while I accept Van Gaal wanted to assert his arrival to the press, the way he did it was both arrogant and disrespectful … especially given the manager he was taking over – a manger who neither failed or was fired – was sitting to his right.

While Bobby was too nice to say anything, his face said it all.

But here’s the thing, Barcelona – or at least the top management – couldn’t care a less.

They got what they wanted.

And by keeping Robson onboard, they had – in essence – bought his complicity.

Or so they thought.

I’ve experienced these kind-of situations in my time.

Albeit a very loose version of these situations.

Being hired because we thought the client valued what we did and how we did it.

Then discovering it was really about PR because their intention was to make us complicit. That they deemed all the experiences and viewpoints we could bring to them, as unnecessary. Because they just wanted to be seen to be doing something without actually doing anything.

And that reveal was horrific.

Initially written-off as ‘teething problems’ before realising it’s fundamental problems.

And while money can make you temporarily complicit, in the hope you can find a way to make it work, if someone is not transparent from the start, it means you can never get to a better place.

And that’s when you discover that regardless of how much money a client – or a job – is paying you, it’s never enough.

Not because you want to be disgustingly rich, but because you determine your value beyond money, but the work you do and the people you do it with and for.

Some out there will never understand that.

They evaluate success with the money they have. Or the groups they are a part of.

But some will.

The ones who remember that what you have isn’t as important as how you got there.

Anyone can win, but only the best want to win well.



When Creativity Was Used To Tell A Story Not Just Demonstrate A Product Feature …

Look at that ad.

Look at it.

Isn’t it marvellous?

Simple. Clear. Charming. Engaging.

Sells the product feature through a human benefit.

A simple story that works for kids and parents alike.

The photo and the headline do all the heavy lifting, namely because the photo isn’t a stock image and the headline isn’t a piece of generic twaddle. And yet it’s not like it has high production values, it is just a good piece of advertising.

It’s also from a bygone age.

Not just because this ad ran years ago, but because advertising has become about selling features rather than benefits.

Explaining rather than communicating.

Describing rather than imagining.

Telling rather than inspiring.

It’s not advertising … it’s a product brochure designed to please the board of directors rather than actual human beings.

Despite my music and clothes taste, I hate looking backwards … but maybe the industry needs to do that. Not because we should aim to replicate what has gone before, but because we seem to need to remember it was stories, ideas, creativity and craft that once made us so valuable, not being able to churn out cultural landfill at the lowest price per execution.