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


What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.

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Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …

__________________________________________________________________________

Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.

Everything.

And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.



Monday Morning Giggle …

Once upon a time I was working with an alcohol client who was launching a new product.

I sat in copious amounts of meetings and watched loads of men sample – or should I say oversample – the product as part of the research process.

I kick myself I didn’t use the line from this cartoon to define those meetings. Damnit.



The State Of Advertising Is In A State …

I’m back.

Did you miss me?

No, didn’t think so …

Anyway, a friend of mine recently wrote an article in the UK edition of Campaign Magazine about the state of outdoor advertising.

He made many good points – from the fact it’s now been relegated to ‘out of home’ categorisation to so much of it ignoring the basic principles of static communication by shoving so many words on it, you get the impression it’s a print ad, just repurposed for outdoor.

But for me, his point was not just about outdoor, but advertising as a whole.

Have a look at this ad by BBH London.

Nice isn’t it.

It ran in 1997 [I think]

Now look at this ad.

Same product.

Same agency.

Even the same line.

Horrible isn’t it.

OK, it’s not horrible by todays standards, but when you compare it to the ad they made 20 years earlier, it is.

And what’s with that ‘beautifully designed’ copy?

As if a car manufacturer would choose to make an ‘ugly designed’ car.

In the last 20 years, the standard of creativity has been severely dented.

Oh sure, Cannes is out there celebrating winners left, right and centre but there’s 2 flaws in their praise:

1. So much of it is scam.

2. The rest of it is niche.

But here’s the thing, the quality inside ad agencies has not diminished – if anything, it has improved – and let’s not forget, both of these ads were done by BBH … one of the all time greats … so I can only assume the shift downwards is being caused by clients focused on satisfying their ego rather than intriguing their audience.

Which makes me question whether clients understand what advertising is and how it actually works … because it seems they are of the belief the masses are sat at home waiting for them to tell them what they should care about so they can run out at the earliest opportunity and make the purchase.

Of course I know that’s not true and of course, I know there are some amazing clients out there – because I’ve worked with them – but maybe this madness is because clients are more focused on the words/phrases played back in their post campaign research analysis [ie: beautifully designed] rather than aiming for society be intrigued, excited or hungry for their brand.

In other words, for all the research and data we have on audiences, there’s far too much emphasis on what brands want people to care about them rather than understanding – and connecting to them – on what they actually care about.

So to Audi, please get back to communicating driver to driver, because not only is this ‘brand to consumer’ approach not working, it’s making you look like every other bland car brand in the category and that kind of defeats the purpose of investing millions of dollars in marketing.



If LinkedIn Is About Professionalism, What Do Some Of The Statements Their Members Post, Say About Professionalism …

Yes … I know I am the last person to talk about professionalism.

And yes … I know Linkedin is kind-of an easy target, but some of the stuff people are putting on there these days blows my mind.

If I was an alien and looking at the site for insight on humans, I’d come to the conclusion there’s 2 types out there, the egomaniacs and the totally lacking in confidence.

Have a look at this …

What?

WHAT?

If it was some kind of psychological experiment, you could just about put up with it – but it doesn’t seem to be. It literally appears a guy called Jason [In a moment of compassion, I’ve deleted some of his info to protect what little honour he has left] wants to crowd source how he should style his facial hair.

And if that wasn’t depressing enough, he’s received over 5000 comments for it.

FIVE THOUSAND.

Seriously, what the hell?

It’s so depressing that I hope he’s only doing this so he could find gullible fools to sell some shit product too.

Honestly, what next …

What tie should you wear to work?

What breakfast should you eat?

What condom should you wear?

On the bright side, if this is the standard of professionalism these days, then it just might mean I am no longer at the bottom of the table.

Sure, I might still be in the relegation places, but no longer at the bottom.

Thanks Linkedin.



A Lesson On The Folly Of Focus Groups From Cameron Crowe …

For some of the younger readers of this blog, you may be wondering who Cameron Crow – the person I reference in the title of this post – is.

Well, he’s a famous film writer/director, responsible for movies including:

+ Almost Famous
+ Jerry Maguire
+ Singles

OK, so he’s also responsible for the car-crash that was Vanilla Sky, but let’s ignore that …

Anyway, I recently read an interview with him where he talks about how he came up with the name ‘Jerry Maguire’ and it’s fascinating.

Not really because of the story behind the name, but what he says at the very end … how movie companies now operate and what the outcome of their modern-day marketing approach would result in.

The thing is, I can so imagine the focus group/movie company preferring ‘You Complete Me’ to ‘Jerry Maguire’.

I can hear the feedback …

“Who the hell is Jerry Maguire?”

“Jerry Maguire is such a boring name, so it must be a boring film”.

“I can’t think what a film called Jerry Maguire would be about?”

“You Complete Me sounds so romantic”

“You Complete Me sounds like a film that is happy and positive”

“You Complete Me is a film I want my whole family to see”

And while I accept I’m being biased – having seen the movie many times – I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to see a movie called ‘You Complete Me’, even if it still contained one of the iconic scenes of my generation.

[Which would probably be left on the cutting room floor these days, see below]

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of research … but focus groups aren’t really about that, they’re about being progress killers.



Failure Has All The Answers …

WW2.

Planes are being lost.

The British Government wants to reinforce their planes so they ask an engineer to look where best to do it.

So this expert gets in one of the damaged planes and studies where the bullet holes are.

After a lot of exploring, he discovers the damage is mainly around the tail and so recommends that is where the reinforcement should be focused.

As he relays his report, one of the generals responds with this …

“Instead of looking at the planes that came back, we should study the planes that didn’t … that’s when we’ll discover what really needs reinforcing.”

And right there is a reminder that to truly understand – or solve – a situation, you have to look at what has failed, not just what has been successful.

Companies … researchers … planners … take note.