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

If You Think It Would Be Mad, It’s Probably Got Something Going For It …

Before I write today’s post, I want you to listen to something …

Yep, that’s the White Stripes with their now classic, ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I say classic, because it is.

It was recorded in 2002 as a bit of fun and yet now it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Sung at concerts.

Sporting events.


It’s the modern equivalent of Smoke In The Water … the go-to song for any guitarist starting out. [And the nightmare for any guitar shop employee]

But the thing about it that I never realised is that it’s a song without a chorus.



It’s deliberate, because one day Jack White liked the idea of – in his own words – “creating a compelling song without a chorus”.

And he did.

A song that will no doubt outlive him because – like Queen’s We Will Rock You – is a simple, repetitive riff that allows audiences to not just join in, but be an integral and active participant in the music.

When you look at the ad industry, while we have evolved from talking AT audiences, our version of audience involvement is still largely based getting them to be an extension for what we’re doing rather than be an integral part of it.

Now of course, I get an audience doing stuff for a band they love is very different to getting people who are mildly interested in a brand, to do something for us … but the main point here is we are not pushing any boundaries right now.

Oh of course there’s agencies constantly pronouncing they have just executed a ‘world first’, but apart from the fact it’s often just a slight variation of something that has previously been around, it’s almost always done to benefit the agencies and clients ego and no one else.

But where is the bolder stuff?

The writing a compelling song without a chorus stuff?

If adland was about writing music, you can bet EVERYTHING would have a chorus.

It would also probably be a pop-song, 3 minutes long [MAX], as simplistic as they can make it and designed to be so palatable as to not offend a soul.

It would be this song …

Hell, even Matt Beaumont thought so in his brilliant book, E.

OK, I’m being a bit mean because its not like there aren’t some agencies doing amazing pieces of work using the ‘traditional’ model not to mention those who are genuinely trying to push the boundaries of what creativity can be – and do – for clients, like this brilliant Planned Parenthood campaign we did at R/GA recently … but in the main, the focus is not about breaking new ground it’s about treading carefully over the old.

Look, I get it … this stuff costs a lot of money.

There’s a bunch riding on it.

But where this ‘minimum risk’ approach fails is when brands talk about wanting to make a big impact in culture … something that powerfully differentiates themselves from the competition … an idea that change attitudes and behaviour … because the most effective way to increase the odds of this happening is to literally do something that runs counter to traditional norms.

An airport lounge that is modelled on a Rock Stars house.

An electric car with an insane button.

A ravioli where the pasta disappears.

An ad that talks about failure.

Now I know what you’re thinking, most companies will never do that.

And you’re right.

But what I find amusing is that we all know doing the same as everyone else produces, in the main, even less chance of breakthrough success than walking into the unknown or unexpected.

The harsh reality is that while many companies talk about breakthrough … innovation … provocation … what they really mean is – at best – being a degree or two better than their competition or – at worst – simply playing catch-up

Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation.

And while I know there is a lot of talent in our biz – talent who use creativity to create incredible ways to either deal with old problems or create new normals – we are in danger of letting ourselves just become executioners of clients transactional requirements, and if that happens, we lose any chance of regaining/retaining our seat at the boardroom table. Because in my experience what the best C-Suite want aren’t companies who simply execute their requirements, but those who see the World differently to them, so they can help them get to places in ways they never imagined possible.

In other words, creative people with commercial appreciation rather than commercial people with creative appreciation.

Now the problem is we live in times where the money men value consistency more highly than boldness … which is ironic given they them place them under immense pressure to keep finding new ways to grow, transform and unlock new revenue streams.

An oxymoron if you will.

Which, for me, highlights 3 things.

1. Independence is power.

2. As Martin and I talked about at Cannes last year, chaos can achieve what order can’t.

3. The only things worth doing are the ones that can break your heart.

Purpose Before Purpose …

So I recently heard a story that should put companies who talk about ‘brand purpose’ to shame.

I’ve written a lot about this subject, but this does it so much better.

Hell, it may even make Mr Weigel – who hates the bullshit spouted about this area of marketing – nod in agreement.

So way back in 1939, the Kansas Wheat realised women were using their sacks to make clothes for their children.

Rather than consider this a strange byproduct of their product packaging, they decided they would start putting designs on the sack fabric so they could make nicer looking clothes.

For many companies, that would be enough … considering this a great way to ‘market their purpose’, but the Kansas Wheat company went one step further.

A step that proved they genuinely cared rather than cared more about looking like they did.

You see they printed their logo on the sacks with an ink that would easily wash away … so the kids wearing the clothes wouldn’t face any stigma they’re wearing repurposed wheat sacks.

Given how much has been said and written about brand purpose, I hope this stops people spouting shit that ‘purpose’ is new or that it means you have to relinquish your commercial requirements to demonstrate it.

Because the key to it is not about the scale you claim you want to achieve, but how you do what you do every single day.

The Best Bit Of Advice About Problem Solving You’ll Ever Get …


We love them.

The bigger and badder the better.

Of course you have to be sure you have the right problem.

And then you have to remember that as much as some people may want to claim it, business – and life, for that matter – can not be approached like one big engineering problem.

Well, it can, but the solutions are – at best – short term and – at worst – ignored for being utterly bland, boring and emotionless.

But that’s not what this post is about.

You see, in our quest to solve big problems, we like to show our solutions by overwhelming the client with our brilliance.

Brilliance of our considerations.

Brilliance of our proof points.

Brilliance of our brains.

I get it …

You not only want to lead the client through your thinking so they ‘get it’, but because you’re proud of what you’ve done.

But there’s 3 things wrong with this approach …

The first is – as my Dad used to say – if you’re desperate to show how intelligent you are, then you’re not that smart.

This has never been more true in the creative industry where the reality is the work should be doing the proving, not you.

And secondly, this ‘demonstration of intelligence’ approach more often than not, results in presentations that are hundreds of pages long.

Literally hundreds.

Slide after slide that takes people on an extremely long journey on how difficult the problem is you have to solve and how complex and detailed the path to your solution has been.

It is, at best, a strategy where the goal is to beat the recipient into submission.

And why am I saying all this?

Well recently, I caught up with someone who told me 3 things I absolutely love.

Three things that should change the way companies approach problems and communicate their solutions.

Now full disclosure …

The person who said this is not some random individual.

In fact I’ve known and worked with them for a long, long time.

But more than that, he is – and has been for 2 decades – at the top of his game.

The business leaders, business leader.

An individual with an incredible history of success through pragmatic decision making and investment in innovation.

I asked him if I could mention his name but he said he preferred if I didn’t. Not because he wants to be mysterious, but because he’s humble … which is another reason he doesn’t work in adland, ha.

That said, he has personally shaped the way I present …

Semi-structured, singular stories rather than a mass of slides.

Strong visuals rather than pages of information.

Clarity rather than confusion.

Spoken through the nuanced, authentic lens of culture rather than superficial generalisations of convenience.

Communicating as an informed outsider rather than a blinkered insider.

The language of people not corporates.

Provocative rather than comfortable.

Inspiring the possibilities of creativity rather than creating structures to stop it.

Now I appreciate not everyone appreciates my style – and that’s fine – however, it has led to a lot of success for me and now, I realise why.

You see what this individual said to me was this:

1. Make sure your presentation is focused on the opportunity not the problem.

2. Remember, solutions need to be simpler than the problem.

3. If you can’t sum your solution up in a sentence, you have either an ego problem or a problem with your solution.

That’s it.

Sounds obvious doesn’t it.

But how many of us are doing it?

How many of us are writing presentations that celebrate the complexity of the problem rather than the power of the opportunity?

How many of us are talk about our approach to executing the solution rather than what the solution actually is?

How many of us talk about solutions as a range of elements tasks rather than one overarching idea?

I would like to think I’ve been following those 3 steps for years, but even now – I read them and go through old approaches and see where I could have done things differently.

More concise.

Cleaner … at least in the articulation of the solution and how I got there.

One of the best bits of advice I ever got was ‘talk to a friend outside the industry about your idea. If they don’t get it, you might need to re think about it.’

This is not about dumbing down.

Or being simplistic and basic.

It’s about really thinking about what you’re doing and how you’re expressing it.

Because as Ronald Reagan said, “if you’re explaining, you’re losing”.

Marcus Brown …

For all the shit I get on this blog, it has served me well.

I’ve learned things.

I’ve been put right on things.

I’ve learned my view on things can drastically change over the years.

But one thing I treasure most of all – even more than the daily abuse I cop – is how this blog has brought new people into my life.

One of those is Marcus Brown.

I’ve known Marcus for over 10 years.

It all started when he stupidly wrote a comment on this blog.

And while I’ve only ever met him once – last year – we have talked a lot via email and video.

I think he would agree that we have both experienced some personal highs and lows over the years we have known each other – because life works like that – but through it all Marcus has kept me entertained and on my toes with his infectious, brilliant, madness.

I don’t mean that in a mean way.

In fact, it’s the highest compliment I can give.

Hell, I can’t think of many people who could inspire me to make a crowd of ad students say hello to Sacrum, a character he created or contribute to iPod singing … another idea he brought to life.

Marcus is one of those people, everyone roots for.

He’s creative, dynamic, full of character and compassion … which is why I was so consistently disappointed an industry that talks about valuing creativity consistently overlooked or devalued his talent.

Without going into too much detail, I know this affected Marcus as well.

He had so much he had to offer … so much he wanted to do … but time and time again, his creativity was challenged or questioned. Not from the perspective of wanting to understand things more clearly, but from devaluing what he had to offer.

Which is why the last few years have been so rewarding.

For him … and for me, watching him.

Because Marcus has found his voice … his purpose … his calling.

He proudly calls himself a Performance Artist … because that’s what he is.

Don’t take my word for it, even Forbes – the business magazine – says so.

But not all is quite as it seems.

You see while Marcus is indeed a Performance Artist, he’s also an author.

You see he has written a book called ‘A Wicked Pack of Cards’.

And it’s brilliant.

I’m not saying this because I’m kinda in it [He stupidly asked me to write a review, which is the pic at the top of this post] but because it makes you think, imagine, feel and question.

It’s one of those books that you think about well after you’ve finished it …

I loved it and I fully encourage people to experience it for themselves.

You can buy it here.

Which brings me back to this blog …

You see, by continuously writing my rubbish, I’ve been able to meet and follow people I would otherwise never have known.

In Marcus’ case, I’ve been able to see how life has changed for a talented, kind, generous man. Where once his life was full of challenges, now it is bursting with happiness … from the love of his life to the time of his life … and I can think of few people who deserve it more.

Watching him create, invent, stretch his boundaries and being prolific in his expression is both inspiring and exciting which is why I can’t wait to see what his mind gets up to next.

You Can’t Say You’re Curious If You Want To Stay Where You Are …

Living overseas is something people often say they want to do, but don’t.

I get it, it’s a big thing, and for some people – they have obligations and responsibilities that mean there is no chance of being to embark on an adventure, even if they were able to.

But there’s others who are in a totally different situation.

Where there is nothing really holding them back but don’t because they spend their time focusing on what they’ll leave behind rather than also appreciating what they’ll gain.

One of the things you get from taking the leap – beyond the incredible experiences, lessons, values, creativity and madness – is friends.

And that’s why a few weeks ago an English/Italian, Russian/Australian and Taiwanese/American – who all met and worked together at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai but now all live in different countries – were able to meet in London for a steak, a laugh and a glorious bitch session.

This would literally not have been able to happen if we all had individually chosen to stay in our home countries rather than embrace the unknown and the uncertainty … but we did and a lifelong friendship were formed.

I say lifelong, but as they are both now bigwigs of strategy at Apple, I bought them each one of these special edition ‘Apple Watches’ …

… so there’s a good chance I may never see or hear from either of them again.

Which is why if this story isn’t the best ad for planners to go and experience and explore working in other countries, then I literally don’t know what is.