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


The Fine Line Between Victory And Vulgarity …

Let me start by saying I have a lot of respect for Charles and Maurice Saatchi.

What they did … the legacy they created … is, even now, amazing.

Their agency was responsible for so many of the ads that went on to define my childhood – both in good and bad ways – however, as I got older and entered the industry, I started to understand just how audacious they were in terms of what they thought the ad industry could be. And do.

Back then, their mantra was ‘Nothing Is Impossible’.

And they certainly lived up to it.

But while this led to some truly incredible work, it also led to the brothers ultimate downfall when they tried – amazingly and brilliantly – to buy Midland Bank.

There have been many reasons written about why their plan didn’t work out … and what happened subsequently … but I have to say, I’d imagine working for them at the time – with their sheer confidence, swagger and ambition – would have felt pretty intoxicating.

However this post isn’t about that, it’s about what happens when, in your quest to keep moving forward, you lose your values or self awareness and end up being a caricature of what you once were.

I’ve seen it happen.

I once worked with an advertising great who ended up believing everything they did was great, simply because they did it.

It didn’t take long before they were phoning in their work.

Not caring about what was going on around them.

Saying whatever they wanted because they believed whatever they said was wanted.

It was pretty tragic and I remember a very horrible conversation between us, where I said he had become the beast he had been obsessed with slaying.

It didn’t go well for me.

And, within a year, it didn’t go well for him … when his deluded arrogance took a step too far and his actions and behaviors couldn’t be ignored any longer.

Nowadays I occasionally see him spouting racist shit about immigration and foreign workers, which I find even more shocking given he spent so many years living across the World, not to mention – if rumours are to be believed – doing unspeakable things with certain people when he was in Asia.

But this isn’t a post about an old, short-lived, delusional colleague – nor it is to suggest the Saatchi brothers are anything like my old, delusional colleague … however this is about the moment [at least for me] when the Saatchi brothers revealed they may have not grown with the times, but were lost in old times.

This.

It was early Jan, 1990.

Saatchi was – I believe – the biggest agency in the World.

And the World was changing.

The party of the 80’s was over and everyone was trying to work out what the next decade had in store. One thing that had already started to happen was the fall of communism.

Protests had been happening throughout 1989 and they continued to gain momentum when, in November of that year, The Berlin Wall – a symbol of Communist/Western ideals – fell.

And it was on that wall Saatchi had placed that ad.

Not on the Western side, but the Eastern.

It wasn’t up for long, but they paid to have it there.

A way of showing their mantra.

An act of deliberate provocation for shock value.

An attempt to keep the spirit of 80’s excess alive.

A claim it was welcoming East German’s to independence and choice.

But the problem was, it wasn’t the 80’s anymore and so it came off as an act of commercial vulgarity. An act of cynical shamelessness to try and capture the headlines. And suddenly, the agency that could do no wrong suddenly went from being audacious to trying too hard.

Or said another way, Saatchi’s were trying to hold on to the past rather than lead the future.

Can you imagine an agency doing that now?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of them out there that have a complete lack of self awareness … not to mention another bunch whose entire business model appears to be ‘doing things first’ … regardless of its value to culture, creativity or commerce … however I doubt even those guys would think doing this would be a good idea today.

Or at least I hope not.

And that’s why I believe a positioning is not as good as a point of view.

Because positioning’s are set in stone.

They don’t move with the times … they stand firm, shouting their same tune regardless of what is going on. But a point of view is different. There’s flex in that. It lets you express what you believe, but how you express it is shaped by what is going on around it.

There’s longevity in a point of view.

There’s resonance in a point of view.

There’s less need to shock, because you always speak what others are trying to say.

Saatchi’s continue to do great work.

Saatchi’s continues to be filled with great people.

But I’ll always wonder what they could have been if they’d not crossed the line from audacious to caricature.

You can read the story of the Berlin Wall ad, here.



Why We Should Be Like The Blues Brothers …

Yes, this post really is about the movie The Blues Brothers.

The one where paroled convict Jake — and his blood brother Elwood – set out on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised, from foreclosure.

Where to achieve their goal, they not only have to reunite their R&B band and organise a concert so they can try to earn the $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s tax bill … but also have to navigate around a homicidal mystery woman, a bunch of Neo-Nazis, an entire police department hellbent on stopping them and a Country & Western band.

And yes, I am really saying we should be like them.

However this is not because I am advocating violence against authority [ahem], or even a return to the true definition of rhythm and blues [versus the sanitised version being flogged by record companies left, right and centre] but because of how Dan Aykroyd – the writer and actor of the movie – ensured the creative value of the artists appearing in the film was rewarded rather than exploited.

Music has a long history of exploiting artists.

Where their talent is used to fund the lifestyles of everyone other than themselves.

It’s been going on for decades and affected everyone – including those who got to ‘the top’ like The Beatles and Elvis Presley [there’s also a great book on how badly Bros got ripped off, which is worth checking out] … however no group of musicians has been as badly affected as black artists.

From not being paid to not being played … black artists has consistently been exploited and abused by white music industry leaders, from record companies to MTV.

To give you an idea of it, here’s a clip of David Bowie challenging MTV about their lack of black artists on the channel …

Bowie, as usual, was right.

Recently I watched a documentary where legendary musician, Herbie Hancock, talked about his iconic Rockit video and how they purposefully created something that didn’t really show his face to ensure MTV would play it in heavy rotation.

THIS IS NOT A LONG TIME AGO!!!

And while you may think the music business is now dominated with black artists, the reality is they are still getting screwed by organisations who want to profit from their talent.

Which leads me back to the Blues Brothers.

You see this movie was dominated by African American musicians – and while many studios would try and underpay them by saying the worldwide exposure they’d gain is commercially valuable to them, Dan Aykroyd did something else.

That’s right, he let them keep their publishing rights.

Which means every time a song or the movie was played, the artists behind the music would get paid.

Not the studio.

Not the writer.

Not the networks.

But the artists.

What’s sick is that 40 years later, this act by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is still rare.

Since then, we have consistently seen people of colour have their creativity exploited and profited from by others.

Whether that is through acts of cultural appropriation to corporate intimidation to down right theft.

Frankly, nothing highlights this more than the plight of Dapper Dan and his store in Harlem during the 80’s and 90’s. Here was an individual who created fashion that changed and impacted culture on an almost unprecedented scale … and yet he faced a constant barrage of abuse, exploitation and theft from organisations who appreciated his talent but just didn’t want to pay for it or acknowledge it.

Given black culture is the driving force of almost all youth culture around the World, it is disgusting how little of the money it helps generate ends up in the pockets of the black community … which is why I suggest another way companies can demonstrate their diversity and inclusion ambitions is to follow the approach of the Blues Brothers.

Included.

Represented.

Acknowledged.

Respected.

Paid.

Enabled.

Empowered.



Maybe 2020 Is The Most Important Year …

OK, let’s get the obvious out the way.

Even if 2020 is the most important year, it’s still been a shit year.

But the point being made is a good one.

To be honest, when I first read it, it felt very much like an ad for NIKE.

Taking what we think and forcing us to re-imagine it.

To feel the words rather than functionally jump to conclusions.

And while there may well be a lot of good that comes out of this.

There has been a lot of pain to lead up to this point and then get to this situation.

However as much as many of us probably wish to put all this behind us, it reminds me of something my Dad once told me.

My Dad changed careers quite a lot in his life.

And when I say ‘changed careers’, I mean it.

From the RAF to insurance to a photographer to law.

Fortunately for the family, my Mum was much more stable … hahaha.

But one day I asked my Dad why he did it … why he didn’t just change job, but dramatically and radically changed industry, even if it meant he had to retrain and re-qualify.

And he gave me the best answer I’ve ever heard.

It went like this:

“I love you and your Mum. If I’m going to spend so much time away from you every single day day, I owe it to you to be doing something I love because nothing would be more insulting than being away from the people I want to spend all my time with, doing something I hate”.

I have always taken that to heart.

Fulfilment over contentment.

It’s what has helped me make decisions that others thought were mad.

It’s behind the jobs I’ve taken, the countries I’ve lived in and the projects I’ve embarked on.

And while there were times it opened up challenges that made me question what I was doing, it always was worth it.

The best things always are.

And while I’ve experienced a fraction of the pain others have had to endure in 2020 – both in terms of the impact it has had on them and the duration it has lasted for them – this is the moment where we need to see change through … to get to the other side rather than try to go back to where we were.

Because on the other side of all this shit, is a chance.

A real, once-in-a-lifetime chance to make things right.

Not just in the US, but everywhere.

Where the systemic and systematic prejudice and racism that is embedded and integrated into our whole way of life is changed.

From education to higher government.

Where people of colour are given the equal rights that the rest of us have enjoyed our entire life.

And let’s be honest, if we do that, we still get the easy job.

There’s people out there who have fought for generations for this moment.

To be seen … heard … noticed … valued.

Which is why we have a moral duty to see this through … to keep fighting to the very end … because nothing would be more disrespectful to the people we say we stand with than walking away at the point we have the chance to make sustainable, effective change.

And if you need any other reason – which you shouldn’t, but just in case – there’s the fact that if we force equality – real, actionable, sustainable equality – into our everyday lives, the people of colour community will lift us all higher.

Take us somewhere better. For absolutely everyone.

Which is why we have to choose fulfilment over comfort.

We over me.

To make 2020 the most important year rather than the worst.



If You Are Uncomfortable Talking About Race, It Means You Are Comfortable With Racism And Are A Shit Planner …

So last week, I was invited to talk at GroupThink’s planning conference.

I like the people there and said yes.

Originally I was going to take people through an old presentation because I didn’t really have much time to write something specific for you. They were OK with it and so wrote it into their program.

Then the situation with George Floyd happened.

Following so shortly on the heels of other racist motivated murders, like Ahmaud Arbery – who was murdered in cold blood by a father and son while out jogging.

At this point, quite frankly, the idea of doing a presentation on strategy seemed so utterly pointless.

So 2 days before the day of the event, I wrote something new.

Something that was about why Black Lives Matters is the only thing that really matters to me right now.

How the ad industry HAS to change.

How the ad industry may talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity but its actions are racist.

I’m not saying that is their intention or that they even realise it, but it’s racist.

And I’ve been complicit in that.

Again, not intentionally, but still done it.

Anyone who is white has … because we’ve let our privilidge create a gap between our actions and our self awareness.

Finally, I talked about 6 things people could do TODAY to make a positive difference to any person of colour … whether that’s through education, responsibility, judgement or action.

Now I must admit I was scared to write this presentation.

Not because I was worried it would make people feel uncomfortable, but because I’m a white male who has had every privilege going and the last thing I wanted to do was come across as if I was claiming to be an expert on this matter or whitesplaining anything.

Which is why I didn’t write the presentation.

I co-wrote it.

In addition to capturing some of the lessons I learned from the brilliant people of colour I’ve worked with and known over the years [which is a lot given how long I spent in China and Asia], the main bulk of the presentation was put together – after seeking their permission – with the irrepressible, wonderful and take-no-shit-from-anyone-especially-me … Maya Thompson, Breanna Jones and Chelsea Curry.

I’ve written and talked about them a lot.

They changed my life.

Literally.

I genuinely believe I can never thank them enough, but one way I try is to take on the issues I should have taken on years ago but thought not being racist was enough.

It isn’t.

So here it is … it’s my usual picture rubbish, but hopefully the bits that are there will make sense to everyone.

The real presentation starts at page 28, the previous slides were linked to the talk I was going to give so I could lull people into a false sense of security so they would get comfortable before I talked openly, emotionally and plainly about an issue that should be the focus of every human right now, but isn’t for a whole host of unimportant or self-serving reasons.

Should anyone want to know more about the presentation, please get in touch.

But most importantly, please act.

Black. Lives. Matter.

Slides 1-5: Just introducing me and why I am happy to be invited to present.

Slides 6-10: How the standard of work being created is generally very poor and how we are all contributing to it in terms of the things we are talking about. Which isn’t the standard of the work and sounds more like us trying to be clients than people valuable to clients.

Slides 11-23: Insights matter because people matter and if you want to make work that is intriguing, interesting, provocative and fresh, you have to care about people, culture and subculture or you’ll get nowhere.

Slides 24-27: I talk about how I was going to talk about the wonderfully crazy project we’ve recently done in China and how understanding sub-culture made building something specifically designed to look like ‘future Mars’ was perfectly sensible but ….

Slide 28: I need to pause the topic of the talk because frankly, the events of the past week have really upset me – specifically the reaction of many agency leaders – and I want to talk about something that matters more to me.

Slides 29-31: Black Lives Matter. There’s many lives that matter, but right now – for me – Black Lives Matter is the only one that matters.

Slides 32-34: Lived around the World, eventually moved to America and then met 3 brilliant women who changed my life. Maya Thompson. Chelsea Curry. Breanna Jones.

Slides 34-39: This is how they fundamentally changed my life for the better by helping me see how blind, stupid and complicit I’d been and then [with some values my Mum taught me] the journey we went on – and still go on – together.

Slides 40-49: Announce this deck has actually all been co-written by Maya, Breanna and Chelsea. Three main reasons for this. I don’t have credibility, I don’t want to come across as whitesplaining and I want any advice I give to be genuinely valuable to people of colour, not a white persons interpretation of what is valuable.

Slide 50: How my industry is racist. Doesn’t want to be. But is. And I use a recent ‘challenge’ put out by Cannes as an example. For the record, they launched a competition on how to attract more diversity into the industry and gave a media budget of £100,000. That’s right they were committing an amount of money most agencies would spend for dinners during Cannes for a topic that they claim is hugely important to them. They don’t intend to be racist but they – like the whole industry – is acting in ways that are.

Slides 51-58: What we have to do to stop being a racist industry including letting go of everything we thought we knew and starting again.

[Please note slide 54: Lots of people say they’re ‘colour blind’. By which they mean they claim they treat everyone the same. The point of this slide is that while we should absolutely treat and value everyone the same, we should do this in a way that acknowledges individual backgrounds and beliefs. Not doing this can result in one of 3 things. [1] We treat everyone the same but based on our definition of what ‘same is’. Which is often white, which means we expect people of colour to adapt to us and our standards. [2] We generalise groups for our convenience, so we call [for example] everyone who is black, “black” … ignoring the vast range of backgrounds, beliefs and nuances they could have BECAUSE PEOPLE OF COLOUR DO NOT ALL COME FROM THE SAME PLACE!!! Or [3] because of being ‘colour blind’, you see everyone the same [which we don’t, let’s be clear on that] so you end up making the same work for everyone thinking it will be resonant with everyone. It isn’t. See how Rihanna highlighted this when she launched her Fenty cosmetics and simply added colours for African American skin, fucking up the big cosmetic companies who had ignored this for decades]

Slide 59-60: Highlighting when you start from scratch it can work, because my son Otis is living proof of it. He has lived in 3 countries and loves them all equally, while accepting and respecting their individual differences.

Slide 61: If you need a commercial reason for why Black Lives Matter [and if you do, you’re a prick] it’s because people of colour can make this industry great again because on top of all influential culture being born from black culture, people of colour understand nuance, values, struggles and humanity better than anyone as they have to deal with this shit every day.

Slide 62-63: Thank you to all the people of colour who helped co-write this presentation – especially Maya, Chelsea and Breanna – and justice for George Floyd.



The NHS Put The Great In Great Britain …

The NHS is 70 years old this year.

While that is a remarkable age, it blows my mind there was a time when it didn’t exist.

The story of its foundation is a remarkable one … one filled with foresight, fight and a governments desire to raise the standards, dreams and potential of an entire nation.

Whether we will ever see something of such audacious good from a government anywhere in the World is debatable.

Obamacare may have come close, but thanks to America’s blinkered fear of socialism [despite having one FBI for example], it means its potential has been destroyed by that criminal, also known as The President of the United States of America.

And all the Republican sheep.

But back to the NHS.

Despite having not lived in England for 24+ years, it’s been a quiet partner throughout my life.

Helping me deal with some of the best and worst times of my life.

And even though there was a time I grew to despise walking along the corridors of the QMC hospital in Nottingham, I was always grateful for it … because it ensured the people I loved weren’t allowed to fall through the cracks at their greatest hour of need.

The NHS has saved my parents life, saved my sight, looked after my dear Paul when he’s undertaken acts of complete stupidity, taken care of my son when he came down with an illness [despite not yet having a British passport] and ensured my parents were given dignity in their final days … it is the single most important and valuable institution the UK has.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have lived all around the World and while there have been a number of occasions where I have needed the urgent and serious attention of Nurses and Doctors, I’ve paid heavily for that service.

Of course I’m grateful for all they did for me – they were excellent – but I was also in a privileged position where I could afford to pay for it which is why the NHS is so important because the reality is, everyone deserves the right to being looked after, not just those with a healthy bank balance.

Countless UK governments have tried to undermine or strip away the NHS … seemingly ignorant to the fact it’s one of the few things that is the envy of the World and should be treasured, not pillaged.

So to everyone who has ever worked for or fought for the NHS, thank you.

You deserve so much more than just a nations gratitude.