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


Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



Showing You Care Is More Important Than Saying It …

Throughout COVID, we’ve been inundated by companies saying they care.

Banks.

Supermarkets.

Pharmaceutical companies.

At the beginning, it made sense … we were in a new reality and everyone was trying to work out what the fuck was going on, let alone what we should do.

But now, coming up to 6 months into this thing, we’re still seeing companies say the same thing.

We care.

We really, really care.

Honest, we really do care.

And frankly, it’s all becoming shit.

Because while we always suspected it was empty words, now they are proving it … because the fact of the matter is this is the time they need to put up.

To do stuff.

To actually show they care.

Which, contrary to the multinational who is spending a lot on advertising right now, does not mean you can consider yourself a kind and generous organisation simply because you make and sell a large range of disinfectant products that are especially important right now.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting charity.

Making money is not a bad thing – and right now, companies need to do it to help keep employees employed. But adding something extra … something that can genuinely benefit the people you rely on would go a long way.

Not just because a lot of people need it right now, but because investing in your audiences wellbeing is investing in your own.

Take Timpson’s.

It’s a family-owned business in high streets and supermarkets up and down the country.

While they do a bunch of things, they’re most widely known for key cutting and shoe repairs.

That’s right, KEY CUTTING AND SHOE REPAIRS!!!

Of all the companies around the World, I would say this Key Cutters have led the way on how you should treat your people and customers in a crisis.

First of all, they made the decision to close all their shops – over 2000 of them – when COVID took hold. They wanted to ensure their staff were safe as not only do they deal directly with the public, all their stores are very small so social distancing would be almost impossible.

However, rather than making people redundant or putting them on government subsidised furlough, they covered the wages for every employee.

In full.

Every employee. Full salary.

To add some more texture to that, Timpson’s employ 5,500 staff … of which 650 come directly from serving a prison sentence … and their weekly wage bill is £2.5 million.

That in itself is amazing.

But then they’ve done something else.

Something aimed at their customers … specifically the one’s who have not been as fortunate to work at a company that takes care of their staff like Timpson and may now be struggling due to redundancy or loss of pay, hours, opportunities.

And what have they done?

This …

How amazing is that?

A genuine investment in their past and future client’s wellbeing.

Not empty words, something that will cost Timpson’s money – both in terms of time and cash.

Maybe it’s not a huge amount, but when you have all these huge corporations shouting their empty words in an attempt to look like they care, Timpson’s actions shows them up for who they are.

A long time ago there was a Michael Moore documentary called ‘Roger And Me’.

It was about the General Motors car company and them pulling out of Detroit.

There’s one bit in it that sticks in my memory.

On the production line, there were people being interviewed about what they’ll do when the factory closes. One guy – who was making one of GM’s most expensive cars – said this,

“What I don’t understand is if companies keep firing their workers, who do they think will be able to afford their cars?”

While I know there are many issues companies face, I know this.

The actions of a key-cutting, shoe repairer has resulted in me having more emotional connection and loyalty to them than I‘ll ever have towards multi-national organisations, spending millions of pounds on ads that attempt to show they care [read: express their designed-by-marketing ‘purpose’] but are so obviously self-serving, you can almost see them rubbing their hands in greedy glee.

Not because they want to make money to protect their workers.

Nor to look after the employees of their supply chain.

But to look after themselves and their shareholders.

And to them, I say this.

Your real ‘purpose’ is showing.

Try harder.



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 Last Month Of 4.0 …

So today is June 1.

In 11 days, I wave goodbye to my forties and enter a decade that seems impossible for me to fathom.

50.

FIFTY.

Seriously, how did this happen?

I still remember sitting on the hill outside Erica’s newsagent with my best mate Paul around 1978, when we worked out that in the year 2000, we would be turning 30.

But here we are, 11 days from 50.

[Though it’s 15 days for Paul, who will LOVE those 4 days where he can bang on about how he is a decade younger than me … though he will also moan that my present for him isn’t like the full page newspaper ad I got him when he was 40, but a Forest shirt signed by all the members of the 1980 European Cup team. Asshole. He knows about this present as I bought it for him years ago so I’m not ruining anything for him. But I still have a surprise for him. Oh yes.]

Turning 30 bothered me a bit.

I was totally fine with becoming 40.

But 50!

I’m both bricking it and utterly casual about it.

And while there are some practical reasons for the shitting myself part – health, work, life in general – the fact of the matter is the older I get, the better my life has become.

I totally get the privilege of that statement, I don’t take it for granted at all, but it is definitely true.

Personally, professionally, emotionally …

Sure there have been some bumps along the way – some terribly hard and emotionally destructive ones – but looking at the big picture, the reality is my life has generally been on an upward trajectory.

Now even I know that it can’t keep going like that forever … but it doesn’t mean I have to stop trying.

The fact is, the older you get, the more you discover …

From what you like, what you don’t … to what you didn’t know and what you want to know.

And what makes it even more amazing – and annoying – is that every step you take, in whatever direction, reveals a whole host of other possibilities you would like to explore and investigate.

The problem is time is now officially, not on your side … so there’s a point where you have to accept you won’t get to try, play, experiment with all you want to do, so while that might put some people off, it kind of makes me want to try and pack more in.

And I am … because on top of work, Metallica, the school with Martin, I’ve already agreed to do a couple more projects that are intriguing and – frankly – ridiculous.

But there’s another reason for this attitude and it’s because my Dad died at 60.

Death is something I’ve talked a lot about over the years – mainly due to both my parents passing away.

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of taking about it, but I must admit, I’m scared of it.

I’m in generally good health, but fifty is still 50 and my Dad still died just 10 years on from this age.

Now of course it doesn’t mean I will … and I’ve come to this completely unscientific view that I should live till I’m at least 71 because if you take away my Dad’s age of dying [60]from my Mum’s [83] … that leave 23 years. Halve that … add it to Dad’s age … and voila, I will live till at least 71.

But then that means I only have 21 years left.

TWENTY ONE.

That’s nowhere near enough.

My wonderful little boy is only 5 for fucks sake. 26 is way too young to lose your Dad … hell, that’s even younger than I was when I lost mine.

Years ago, an old boss I looked upto said that if you can’t feasibly double your age, that is when you know you are – at best – middle aged or – at worst – the last stage of your life.

Well I suppose I can still feasibly double my age – even if it’s against the average age of death for a man in the UK [79.2] – but the reality is where I’m going is shorter than where I’ve been.

But shorter doesn’t mean less interesting.

And arguably, I have more exciting things in my life now – both personally and professionally – than I have ever had.

It also helps I am insanely immature with a desire for mischief, experimentation, creativity and adventure.

And I intend to fill it up with even more.

Fortunately I get that from a number of sources.

My wife.

My son.

My job.

My other jobs.

My friends.

My mind.

A while back, Pete said something I found pretty profound.

He said the narrative of strategy tended to focus on the importance of curiosity when discovery is far more valuable for driving the standard of the work you create and the adventure you go on.

Now I’ve written a lot about how I hate when planners talk about curiosity – as if they’re the only people who have it – but I really, really like that idea of the hunger for discovery.

I absolutely have that.

I owe so much of what I have to that.

The countries I’ve lived in. The people I’ve worked with. And most importantly, the family I am fortunate to have.

So while I enter a new decade, I will continue to live like it’s the old one.

Not in terms of dressing like I’m younger than I am – mainly because I have always dressed like I live in 1986 – but with the hunger, ambition and desire I’ve always had.

I genuinely believe my best work is still ahead of me.

Truly believe that.

And the goal of this decade is to achieve some of that while discovering new things that make me believe even better work can still lie in my future.



Thank God For May …
May 1, 2020, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Hope

Well April – like most of 2020 so far – was fucking shit.

There’s a very high likelihood May will be the same, but like the start of every Forest season – I choose to ignore the realities and believe it could all be different this year.

Even though it isn’t.

But after an absolutely shit past 30 days, it’s a new month, it’s Friday, it’s already 1000 times better than any day that went before it and for that, I’m positive … cheery … and full of faith.

Until Monday.

But here’s to the next 3 days of happy delusion …