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


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.

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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.



Self Awareness Stops You Being Self Stupid …

So I was talking at event recently about ‘loyalty’ and mentioned how when the Amazon Dash button came out, one of my clients was ecstatic.

In their mind, it meant they were going to see sales grow because instead of having to risk a shopper buying a competitive brand, they would press the button and the sale would be there’s guaranteed.

In my talk, I went on to say how I told the client that was great in theory, but there were 3 things they had to think about.

1. The real winner is always going to be Amazon.

2. It was going to be a huge race to see who could get the most ‘buttons’ into homes.

3. The result would be the destruction of their hardly fought – and expensively bought – premium brand value status.

At the end, a gentleman asked me why I thought turning a brand into a commodity was a bad idea as it meant more sales and that meant more money for the brand and the shareholders.

I must admit, I was quite taken aback by this response and pointed out that being a commodity might generate more sales, but it loses profitability and – more scarily – leaves you open to a competitor deciding to either launch a price war or disrupt the market with a new product.

He wasn’t convinced and kept going on about commodity value and how soon all brands will end up following that route.

I must admit I was a bit rude to him so after the event, I sought him out to have a chat.

Turned out he worked for a car insurance company and highlighted his category was driven purely by price.

When I asked him what he meant, he said:

“As long as your company name is generally known in a generally good light, you will get business”.

It took all my strength not to laugh in his face, so instead I simply replied,

“So you do believe in brand value or you wouldn’t care if the company name was generally known in a generally good light”.

You could see him look confused, so I decided to just finish the job off by saying …

“And if you believe everything is a commodity, why are you wearing an expensive watch when a Timex does the same job?”

He smiled a ‘fuck you’ smile at me, said goodbye then left.

It was a good evening.



Growing Old Stupidly …

When I was in my late teens, I would go to Rock City, every Friday night.

Rock City was a mecca for heavy rock music fans.

From 9 till 2am, it would play none-stop tunes at eardrum-busting volume.

There would be the classic songs by the classic bands – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, Whitesnake – but the best bit was when they would play something that was just breaking over in the US.

It was at Rock City I first heard Guns n’ Roses, Cinderella, Love/Hate, Badlands and countless others.

Eventually, Rock City gained an international reputation and so bands would not only send them copies of their new album before they were released, but they would ensure they visited and played at the venue as part of their World Tour.

I went to that smelly, sweaty, cramped and pulsating venue for absolute years.

Starting at the Tap and Tumbler pub round the corner before queuing up for entry in the sort of clothes a stripper would balk at before hanging around the edges of the club to say hello to the friends and acquaintances you knew before finally working your way through the heaving, throbbing masses to get into the middle of the dance floor so you could be swept up and pushed around by the intense energy of hundreds of people all loving the same thing at the exact same moment.

They were, quite frankly, some of the best times of my life.

I made friends.

It forged and influenced my love of music.

I discovered what being part of a community was really like.

It pushed me to experience and experiment with things I may never have done.

Which is all my way of justifying why – when I heard they were changing the floor after
40 years and were selling the old one off in pieces – I happily paid them £40 so I could own a piece of my history forever. [See pic at the top of this post]

Yes, it’s tragic.

Yes, it’s pathetic.

But as mid-life crises go, it’s less expensive than a Porsche.

Or an affair.



Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.