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


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.



Independence Vs Ownership Explained …

David Lee Roth once stated “whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness, didn’t know where to shop”.

I get it … money is epic and makes life easier and – superficially – happier.

But what he didn’t say is that “there’s no amount of money that makes being miserable, worthwhile”.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t know it.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to admit it.

But given how he has talked about his toxic time in Van Halen, I am pretty sure he’d agree now … because while there are many benefits to independence [and ownership for that matter, but that’s a post for another day], the one that is the most valuable personally, professionally, creatively, commercially and collaboratively is the ability to be honest with your colleagues and clients.

Utterly honest.

It might not always be the most comfortable meeting – especially if you’ve been an asshole and tried to fuck them over and then beg forgiveness later – but it will always get to a stronger outcome.

After all, they say ‘honesty is the best policy’ for a reason.

Happy weekend.



Brighton Is Rubbish. Kinda …

I went to Brighton recently and I have to say, I quite liked it in a try-hard-to-be-cool kind of way.

And while there was a bunch of things to see and explore, one thing stood out from all of them.

This …

I have to be honest, while I am all for sorting out your rubbish, a public bin just for BBQ food is pretty spectacular.

Especially as I didn’t spot a single place selling BBQ food anywhere near it.

But as I wrote about the bins in LAX airport, by not labeling it simply as ‘rubbish’, it did stop me in my tracks.

Made me look more closely.

Made me think.

Which begs the question, for all the logic we are approaching the challenges of the environment – maybe the best way to get people to actually think and reconsider is not to bathe them in facts about our self-created, impending apocalypse, but to use language and imagery that cracks the firewalls we have put up around ourselves to manage this sort of information on our own terms.

It might be counter-intuitive, but as the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Doncaster County Council grit machine campaign showed, sometimes the most sensible thing we can do to create change is to embark on utter madness.

Just like my Boaty McBoatface argument that I am absolutely not bitter about in any way, even thought they completely ignored it and dismissed it out of hand.

Oh no.

When will authorities appreciate that humans are hypocritical.

That common sense is often in the eye of the beholder rather than their being some uniform fire of how everything should be.

This is why we have rubbish ads, rubbish politicians and rubbish products … because while I appreciate we need certain benchmarks to move forward, so many of the things we rely on are as fake as the Emperors New Clothes.

Designed to hide our truth rather than to reveal it.

That doesn’t mean you should stop talking to people, far from it, it actually means you need to spend even more time with them so you can get even closer to them. Understand their realities, their contexts, their truths and dramas and all the nuances and personal rabbit holes they go down to manage what they think and decide to do.

People are fascinating, but it needs more than a fucking focus group or poll to discover it.

As I’ve said before, if you want them to respect your clients brand, start respecting them~.



Professional To The Core …

For reasons I don’t understand – but I do like – I occasionally get asked for my opinion in industry magazines.

While I absolutely take what I do seriously, I have realized that if I was to compile all that I’ve said that has been printed, I would look a bit of a maniac.

For example, there’s this. Or this. Or even this.

And just recently I was asked ‘what Star Wars character would I be’ and this was my answer …

But here is the thing …

While many may think I do this because I need psychiatric help or have a career death wish, there’s another reason behind it and it’s about comfortableness.

You see when I was a youngster in the industry, I was surrounded by super-smart, super-senior people who were full of opinion, personality and provocation.

While I didn’t agree with everything they said, they helped me realise that ‘just because you take your job seriously, doesn’t mean you have to take yourself seriously’.

What this did was let me feel comfortable in taking to any of them about any madcap idea I had … let me talk to clients about subjects that may otherwise seem ‘off limits’ and let me work with colleagues without thinking it made me look weak or incapable.

In essence, cheekiness has enabled me to do – or be part of – things that I may not otherwise never have been able to do.

From work I’ve been a part of … clients I’ve worked with … agencies I’ve worked at and countries I’ve lived in.

Now of course, mischief is in my bones so it wasn’t exactly hard … but being encouraged to embrace my truth rather than oppress it had a huge benefit to my career and so while a bunch of what I say and do is because I’m a bloody idiot, there is a part of it that is intended to create the space and atmosphere to enable my colleagues and clients feel comfortable with being vulnerable … whether that’s expressing their ideas, their fears and ambitions or simply realizing that if I can have a career while still being a sweary fool, then they – with all their talent – surely can.

You might think this is a load of bollocks – and I totally understand get why – but it’s true.

The future of adland is not going to come from more processes, it’s going to come from more people being able to express or explore their ideas without fearing they will be judged, shot down or ridiculed.

And if you think that’s a dramatic statement, just go on twitter and see how the masses react to any idea that challenges the belief system they have bought into, even though they know for a fact that the very small amount of people who succeed – which are mainly white men – are generally the ones who reinforce the cliche rather than push or break them.

Happy Monday.



Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.



If A Plane Can Make Me Feel Emotion, Why Can’t Most Brands?

I fly a lot.

I have flown a lot for a very long time.

And still, I am not sick of it.

OK, that period of flying to America every week got to me, but generally, I love the feeling of flying – even though now, as a Dad, it makes me slightly more panicky just in case something happens.

I have to say of all the flights I do, long-haul are my favourite.

Part of this is because I sleep very, very easily on planes and so I get more rest on a plane than I do at home.

Part of this is because I get to watch movies uninterrupted, something that stopped happening when Otis was born.

Part of this is long-haul flights are my ‘normal’, so I don’t see them as long – just flying.

But of all the planes I have flown, I never got to do it on Concorde.

Maybe it’s because my Dad’s dream was to fly on it to NYC.

Maybe it’s because it entered mainstream service when I was at an impressionable age.

Maybe it’s because it flew at twice the speed of sound and so high, that you could see the curvature of the earth.

Regardless of the fact it was – in essence – the first rocket ship for public use, there has always been something about Concorde that was magical to me.

To be honest, I’m not sure why …

It was so quick I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a good sleep.

It was small – only 100 passengers – so I’d feel a bit claustrophobic.

The windows were so minute, you wouldn’t ever get a decent view unless you were next to it.

But regardless of all that, it was a magnificent machine … the likes of which, especially in domestic air travel, may never be seen again.

A few weeks ago, I got to see one.

Not a picture.

Not a model.

A real, refurbished one.

And I have to say, it was pretty emotional.

They had done it very well and in addition to giving you a good history of the rise and fall of the plane, they even included a ‘virtual flying experience’ that was pretty realistic.

However at the end, they showed a video of the last Concorde flight coming into land – Union Jacks flying from the pilots windows – and you felt a real sense of loss.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true …

Concorde was different.

Concorde was ahead of its time.

Concorde was the embodiment of the glamour of flying.

And while she was noisy, environmentally unfriendly, hideously expensive and the subject of a terrible crash [which, to be fair, was caused by the fault of another plane rather than herself] there was something magic about that plane and while I didn’t get to fly on her, it means a lot to me that I got to sit in her.

Thanks Concorde, you could teach a lot of companies a thing or two about capturing an audiences imagination.



More Proof Starbucks Customers Have No Taste …
August 22, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Experience

I always thought England was obsessed with politeness.

Apologizing for things they didn’t do.

Expressing gratitude for things that don’t matter.

Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for every human interaction.

Maybe I thought this because I’ve been away for so long.

Maybe it’s because of Brexit.

But while I am loving being home, I am also aware some people can be utter pricks.

Case in point … Starbucks customers.

Specifically the Starbucks customer in the photo at the top of this post.

A few weeks ago, I was quietly eating my breakfast on a small table by myself.

Suddenly this guy comes and sits on the other side of the table … literally next to me.

And why did he do this?

Was it because I invited him?

No.

Was it because he was being friendly?

No.

It was because his takeaway coffee was being made and he thought he would take the weight off his feet by sitting at someone else’s table and waiting till he was called to pick up his coffee.

What the fuck?

When did that behaviour become ‘a thing’?

You wouldn’t join a family at their table if you were waiting to pick up a takeaway so why is this OK?

What got me even more pissed off is that he sat there, not facing me and yet completely invading my personal space.

Eventually he looked at me and when he saw me staring at him, he asked ‘what my problem was’.

To which I replied …

“I’ve not had someone this close to me since I had my proctology exam, though to be fair, the doctor asked if he could be there”.

The great irony is he called ME rude.

On the bright side, it got rid of him and left a nasty taste in his mouth – though given he was drinking a Starbucks, he should have been used to that by now. Boom Tish.