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


You Can’t Change The Future If You Judge Them By The Old Rules …

So a few weeks ago I went to the premiere of the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody.

But it was more than that … I went with my best mate Paul and was surrounded by 6000 Queen fans, the band and the actors from the film.

It turned a movie into a wonderful celebration of an amazing band.

To be honest, while Rami Malek is amazing as Freddie – as is Gwilym Lee as Brian May – the atmosphere from the audience was better than the movie.

To be honest, it was always going to be that way, but as a piece of my personal history – including the re-enactment of so many concerts where I was actually there – it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

Of course this movie is not going to change the opinion of anyone who wasn’t a Queen fan already. And even for them, it’s not going to tell them anything you didn’t already know … but what the movie has done is get the media to conversations with people who were part of the Queen history that previously, had rarely said much about it.

One of them is fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

She was the person behind the look that – in many ways – defined Freddie and the story she tells in the interview is wonderful, especially the bit where she describes him as a ‘hidden revolutionary’.

Of course she is referring to him in this way because back then, Queen was just starting out, because the idea of Freddie Mercury ever being hidden is quite amusing.

But that is the thing we often forget … that new is always going to be uncomfortable and yet we judge those with new ideas by the standards of the established. Literally trying to kill new thinking before it has a chance to even catch light.

And that’s why we all need to be more open to the unknown and the unexpected.

See where it could take us before we tell it where we want to take them.

Because when we hear people or companies say they want to be like NIKE, APPLE, Freddie Mercury or countless others we forget that to get there took time, patience and letting go … of the old rules, the old expectations and the old answers.

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Transformer Tech …

When we moved to the US, we bought a new television.

We hadn’t had a new one for 9 years so when we got a ‘smart TV’, it was a revelation.

Sadly, when we were moving to the UK, we had to get rid of it because it wouldn’t work with the UK power grid.

Anyway, we went out and bought the new version of it – and while it is 65″ of OLED, 4K brilliance – the bit I love the most is that it has a feature that disguises itself as a painting.

I know it’s not the first television to do this, but it’s the first one I’ve had that does – and given it’s amazing picture quality – it’s ability to really give the impression it’s art, not tech is amazing.

It also reminds me of the brilliant work the brilliant Red Associates in NYC did for Samsung years ago.

Years ago, Samsung approached them for help on how to sell more televisions.

Rather than respond with solutions relating to branding or distribution, they came back with a more human focused response.

What they had discovered was that men love to show off their tech.

When they buy it – especially if it is for the home – they want to show it off … make it a focus of their World.

But women are different.

They don’t like things that change the focus and flow of the home.

They love technology but don’t want it to overshadow the people and the interactions that go on between the 4 walls. In essence, they want the technology to enhance the family dynamic, not overshadow it.

And so Red Associates told Samsung that they should be looking at changing the frames the TV’s were held in.

Less black and more shades that suit the colour palette of home decor.

Sure the screen would remain dark, but by changing the frame, it would blend in more with the home than stand out.

And you know what … it worked.

Samsung saw a dramatic increase in brand affinity with women.

Which meant when a family wanted to buy a new TV, Samsung increased their odds of being the one chosen because it understood that purchase decisions were based on more than just the tech, but the way it works when it’s off.



Making Sure They Know They Matter Even When You Leave …

Yes I know today is the day where all the ghosts and ghouls are supposed to come out and play, but I thought I’d inject a bit of love and positivity into the World.

I know … who the hell am I?

Unsurprisingly, this new side of me is connected to my past life in LA.

While we are absolutely loving being in England and London, there are things about LA we miss.

One of them is Otis’ amazing preschool.

As I have written before, it’s an amazing, creative, inclusive place of learning and we were so happy he was there.

But leaving was always going to be hard – especially given we were leaving the country – so we asked the school if we could buy a piece of furniture for them on behalf of Otis.

Not just because it’s a school where the lessons are conducted outdoors but because we wanted Otis to know that while he was in America for a short time, his presence mattered to the community and the community mattered to Otis.

I’m so grateful they said yes which is why, while we’re thousands of miles away in the cold of England, there is a bench in sunny Manhattan Beach that allows Otis to always be in a place he loved while also letting his friends – and future students – always enjoy being in the environment they find themselves in.

The point of this post also relates to the people I’ve been lucky enough to call colleagues around the World, but that’s a post for another day [and does not relate to leaving stickers and badges around the place] so with that, I just want to say a huge thank you to Manhattan Beach Nursery School, the kids and parents who go there and LA as a whole.

Take that Halloween.



6 More Steps To Content Creation, Not Garbage Collection …

So following on from yesterday’s post about how to create content that people actually want to watch rather than run away from, here are the remaining 6 lessons.Remember, they’re not from me, but from a friend of a friend who started a YouTube channel [Kyra.TV] last year that has turned them into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

Be grateful for that, because this is my version of good content.

Here.

Here.

And Here.

Exactly. Now settle down for the remaining 6 points.

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LESSON SEVEN: This audience loves ‘YouTubers’

When we first started making content for Youtube, I confess we used to turn our noses up at the “YouTubers”.

We learnt that made us idiots.

We couldn’t understand why young people loved them so much and just put it down to one of the mysteries of the internet.

Your Jake Pauls

Your PewdiPies

Your David Dobriks

Your Zoellas

We had watched some of their content, we thought we understood it and we made our minds up. We assumed their audiences came from getting to the platform first and I can’t tell you how wrong we were and how much respect I have for them and their teams now.

What we’ve come to understand over the past year is that some of these creators are nothing shy of complete genius. They are media powerhouses with intricate and refined strategies that are driving levels of engagement never seen before in our industry.

Take Logan Paul.

Say you what you want about the controversy, let’s look at the facts.

In December he generated 320 million video views.

He creates a 15 minute TV Show every single day.

Even his dog has 3.4m Instagram followers and generates 500,000 likes per post …

Let’s take another example.

KSI gained more subscribers than Complex, Vice, Buzzfeed and Vox COMBINED in the last 30 days.

These are some of the most innovative people in the media industry and unlike the past, they’re beginning to realise it as well and are now beginning to seriously monetise it. Every media house in the world right now should be paying attention to them, watching and learning from them every single day.

I know we are.

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LESSON EIGHT: This audience listens to and values people over brands

Leading on from that point …

Since the dawn of media, individuals and influencers have always been at the forefront of entertainment.

Think David Beckham, the Spice Girls, Gordon Ramsay …

Beforehand these figures needed media owners to reach their audiences but today that is definitely not the case.

The Kardashians … the Paul brothers… these are people and media giants rolled into one.

Just two months ago Will Smith started vlogging and has already amassed a huge audience of close to 1 million subscribers on his channel.

I’ve learnt that this generation expects to connect with influencers directly, and if you can facilitate that connection, you will win.

A lot of our business strategy at Kyra is centred around putting people at the forefront of our content proposition.

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LESSON NINE: Your audience is a manifestation of the content you produce

This one is glaringly obvious, but I find it pretty interesting.

If the content you publish is negative, you will breed an audience fuelled by negativity. Haters in the comments. Low sentiment ratios.

If your content is positive, uplifting, inspirational, aspirational, you’re likely to receive the same response from the audience.

If your audience is intelligent and thoughtful, you will see intelligent, thoughtful people gravitating towards it.

And so on, and so on…

It sounds obvious, but for me it was somewhat of a revelation.

In a world where so much is reliant on the kind of audience you attract, this has been a key factor to our success with advertisers and has a huge impact on the kind of content we produce every day.

The proof is out there, go and have a look at video publishers and their comments, I think you’ll agree that their audiences are a direct mirror of what they put out into the world.

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LESSON TEN: Long term value comes from consistent and regular programming

When we first started, we were constantly hunting for a viral hit … the mythical unicorn of the internet that everyone strives for.

But after creating and publishing hundreds of pieces of content consistently for a year, the question I am still asking myself is “does it really build long term value?”

I’m unconvinced.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that what will ultimately win, is creating quality content CONSISTENTLY and incrementally building a passionate army of fans that are unwavering in their loyalty and affinity to your brand, channel or content.

I’d take 200 videos with positive, steady growth over one big Gangnam Style hit any day.

What I’ve basically learnt is: viral hits do not build community and that is essentially all that matters.

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LESSON ELEVEN: This audience has REAL spending power

So many Brand Managers ask me ‘but how much money do these young people really have?’

For PAQ, we set up a Pop Up shop in London and put out some posts online the day before inviting them to come down and check out the shop.

Now to put this in perspective… I had no fucking idea what was going to happen. Up until this point, everything … the followers, the comments, the engagements were just pixels on a screen, ones and zeros.

So I was 100% ready to turn up the next day and find a ghost town.

Well at 7am we had 100 people already queuing outside the shop.

At 9am when we opened it was up to around 500, lines of people queuing around the corner to meet the people they watch every week on our show.

People flew in from Germany, Sweden and even Malaysia just to come to the shop.

My learnings from this were so valuable:

This audience has access to money and they are very much REAL.

I learnt that digital audiences can transcend into real world purchases very easily.

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LESSON TWELVE: Length doesn’t matter to the audience, it matters to the advertiser

I remember when we started producing content, speaking to dozens of people to try and understand what length our videos should be.

So many people told me so many different things.

But here is what I’ve worked out myself over the past 6 months:

It doesn’t matter if your video is 30 seconds, 5 minutes or half an hour.

If the content is good, the audience will watch it.

We have the same view through rates across our content, no matter what the length.

However, the length of the content is very, very important when it comes to making effective branded or sponsored content.

The bottom line is this: The longer you can engage an audience, the more right you have to show them an advertiser’s message.

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Again, there may be stuff in here you knew and stuff you disagree with … but I personally found all this stuff interesting.

The key – as is the case for all successful communication – is know your audience.

Not in terms of just what they do, or where they do it … but why.

That little thing that seems to have fallen out of vogue and yet in the right hands, can still make the difference between good and great.

Of course, the ‘why’ – or the other name for it, insight – isn’t good enough on its own.

For it to really unleash its power you need creative people who are given the time and space to explore, experiment and just be creative … and yet it appears to me that the approach favored by most people in addend – and their clients – is to only make content they want their audience to like rather than what their audience actually wants to watch.

As I wrote ages ago, engagement is not about relevance, but resonance.

Of course, it always used to be that way.

It’s why kids loved Beavis and Butthead but adults hated it … to name one out of a thousand possible examples.

But somewhere along the line, the networks started to focus on scale – meaning they made shows designed to appeal to as many people as possible. Hence we got juggernauts like Friends – shows that were kind-of relevant to everyone without being specific to someone.

This was fine until the internet came.

Then choice was handed back to us.

No longer did we have to put up with the general interest, mainstream TV … suddenly we could choose the things that reflected us.

Our individual tastes, interests, viewpoints.

The content creators who are making things that are changing things get this.

They know their audience and they double down on it.

The content creators who are making rubbish like that Nescafe ‘thing’ that caused this whole stream of posts, don’t.

If adland and clients really want to have a position in culture, then the thing they need to get back to doing is knowing their audience … not in terms of a demographic or even a psychographic … but really know who they are, what they do, what they hate etc etc, because while ‘appealing to everyone’ may sound good to the board of directors, it doesn’t really work then that means you mean nothing to no one.



How To ‘Content Create’ Without It Being The Stuff Should Be ‘Dustbin Content’ …

A few months ago I wrote a post about the shit that passes for ‘branded content’ these days.

Well after reading it, my friend King Adz [global street art/fashion expert, author, film director] sent me something a friend of his had written about how to make good content.

His friend has a right to do this because he started a YouTube channel last year that has turned him into one of the most interesting and fastest-growing content creators in London.

They’ve done a streetwear show [PAQ] and a food show [Bad Canteen] all aimed and consumed by the youth and from these experiences, he has identified twelve pointers for creating credible and infectious youth content.

To make sure this post isn’t the longest post in the history of this blog, I’m, going to split it into 6 today and 6 tomorrow.

I know, I’m so kind.

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LESSON ONE: Be Transparent

The first thing we learnt when we tried to make money and integrate brands into our content was this audience doesn’t mind being advertised to. They are smart and they enjoy consuming content. They understand that the content doesn’t make itself and it isn’t cheap aden they understand the pay-off.

Because of this, don’t try and fool them. You will get called out.

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LESSON TWO: YouTube is a direct substitute for TV

In the same way I would come home when I was younger and switch on the TV and binge on Nickelodeon or MTV until I got called for dinner, this generation is doing exactly the same thing.

They finish school, college, work … they come home they open their smartphone or laptop and sit in front of it until they are either told to turn it off by their parents or it’s time for bed.

The behaviour is identical.

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LESSON THREE: But the content isn’t the same as TV

Yes, consumers’ behaviour may be the same as TV behaviours, but the content that they’re consuming is completely different.

Content on YouTube doesn’t need to look like TV content to be successful.

In fact, one thing we’ve learnt is that in some cases it’s quite the opposite. Some of the most successful channels are self shot.
Self shot, hand held and more vloggy style content has a feeling of intimacy and authenticity that TV never offered its viewers.

That’s not to say that high production can’t work, we just learnt not to overlook the intimacy that this generation desires from content.

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LESSON FOUR: This audience wants to be entertained

Dude Perfect, The Slo Mo Guys, Lele Pons…

What’s their commonality?

They are all centred around humour and entertainment.

Exactly like TV.

We have to realise, 90% of people are watching it to kill some time, wind down a bit and escape their day-to-day life.

If we are being honest with ourselves, YouTube audiences respond best to lighthearted entertainment. Making meaningful, purpose-led content is great but there’s nothing to be ashamed about in creating content that simply entertains.

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LESSON FIVE: This audience left Facebook ages ago

Look I don’t have anything concrete in terms of statistics to back this up.

And honestly it’s just my experience.

I work with hundreds of young people every single week and I can categorically tell you that I have not spoken to one in the past year that actually uses Facebook.

NOT ONE.

There’s lots of industry speculation right now around this subject and the potential decline. I just want to say from my real world experience, that for this audience Facebook is long gone.

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LESSON SIX: Instagram is LIFE

In the same vein as the last point, this is also my personal experience.

But Instagram is by far the most powerful social media network the world has ever seen.

Speaking to these young people, it is jaw dropping how much weight is put on Instagram by this generation.

The Instagram profile [hard posts] is the definition of a person’s identity.

Instagram stories are an ephemeral window into a person’s life, in a slightly less controlled, more organic way.

Followers and likes are a direct measure of how relevant, popular and important somebody is. And look, I’m not here to pass judgement on if this is good or bad, but I will say to everyone reading this: take note, Instagram is a really, really big deal and it’s so much deeper than just posting photos.

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So there’s the first six …

Some you may know, some you may question but some may give you food for thought.

Remember this is specifically around youth orientated content, but for all the expertise out there, it’s funny how the most popular social content has not come from anyone in our industry.

Maybe this 2011 video from PHD can shed some light on that …



Happy At Home …

So it’s 2 months since we’ve been back in England and I have to say it’s been great.

Sure, the weather isn’t like LA.

Sure, finding a home and unpacking was a pain-in-the arse.

Sure, catching the tube is not like driving my beloved Audi to work.

Sure, I’m shocked at how bad the service is in restaurants and how many people smoke.

But all that aside, things are great.

There’s a bunch of reasons for that …

The first is my family are all together and well. Even Rosie, the moaning cat.

Seeing how brilliant Otis has adapted to his new environment [again] is inspiring, even though it has highlighted how much of an American twang he picked up in our time in the US.

To move home is a traumatic experience for anyone.

To move countries is often too much for people to even contemplate.

So to have moved home and country, 3 times when you’re only 3 years of age – and still be happy, positive and curious – is an incredible achievement and one that makes me even prouder of my wonderful little boy.

That said, we’re very mindful he is still trying to find where he belongs … find other kids he can form a connection with … so our job in these early months is to help him feel as settled and secure as we can, but so far, he’s handling it far better than we could ever hope, even though he did exactly the same when we landed in LA after Shanghai.

What a kid.

Another reason we’re enjoying things in England is that there’s an incredible familiarity to how things work.

Sure I’ve not lived here for 24 years and Jill is Australian … but we both have spent a huge amount of time here over the years so there’s a comfort in knowing how to make things happen. It’s allowed us to acclimatise to the new environment far quicker than we have in other nations while still feeling the buzz of excitement of being somewhere new.

Sure, there’s nervousness about some things we’ve never/rarely had to deal with before.

The school system and how insane that is here.

The inability to be confident a tradesman will turn up as promised.

The high price of public transport [which is still low, but comparatively high to say, China]

But all that is offset with the incredible culture that surrounds us, the friendliness of the people we’ve met and just being in a place where we can see ourselves for a good length of time.

Oh, and chips, mushy peas and gravy.

God, that’s magic right there.

But one other thing that has made things so great is work.

I’m really enjoying myself.

I have an incredible team full of smarts and opinions.

I have a huge array of colleagues full of creativity and provocation.

I have a bunch of clients full of fascinating challenges and ambitions.

I’m learning.

I’m being challenged.

I’m [hopefully] contributing.

There were a bunch of reasons why we moved countries – both personal and professional – and while no place will ever be perfect, I’m pretty shocked at how much I am enjoying being back in England given I never thought I’d ever move back.

I still wish I could nip up to Nottingham to see Mum and Dad.

I still wish Paul and Shelly lived down the street not 2 hours away.

But as much as I’ll always be a cynical bastard, I’m pretty happy right now and I’m sure that is as shocking to you as it is to me.

So on this bombshell of positivity, I wish you a good weekend and let you know that the APSOTW results will finally be out next week.

Ta-ra.



Back Where It All Began …

So today I start my new job.

In England.

The last time this happened was in 1989 which blows my mind.

Of course, this situation is quite different to the last situation.

I’ve had a family.

I’ve lived around the World.

I’ve worked – and started – a bunch of companies.

I’m slightly better off than I was back in the late 80’s.

And while I enjoyed my time in the US, I’m very excited about what I’m going to be doing because whereas previously the big opportunity for me was more around understanding different cultures, this new role gives me that while also challenging and teaching me about possibilities that go beyond my areas of experience, because today I start as the head of strategy for R/GA for EMEA.

There were a bunch of reasons for leaving America, but one thing we knew was that there was no point if I wasn’t going to be enjoying myself.

For enjoying myself, I mean pushing me, challenging me, educating me and helping me make a bigger difference than I thought I could make.

I’ve long admired R/GA – especially R/GA London – so when we started chatting, I was fascinated about the opportunity and was incredibly happy/surprised, to learn they seemed to feel the same way.

Quite frankly, while all agencies talk about ‘creating cultural change’, R/GA seem to be the only one trying to make it happen on an ongoing basis. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some agencies out there who definitely help shape cultural behavior and attitudes – like my beloved W+K – but R/GA want to create the ideas, systems and communication that can encourage longer term cultural change rather than momentary effect.

At the end of the day, the idea of working with smart people who want to use creativity to impact the future and smart clients who want to walk towards the future was hugely infectious for me, especially at my age.

What makes it even better is that my remit means I’ll still get to work and discover different cultures, which is something I’ve done for the past 20 years all around the World … though given it’s been 24 years since I’ve lived in the UK, I’m pretty sure I’m going to find it fascinating understanding what is making this country tick.

All in all, I’m super excited.

At the interview I was asked why I wanted the job and I told them about a friend of mine who works for architect extroidinaire, Sir Norman Foster.

My mate is disgustingly epic … smart, charming and as handsome as hell … but despite all those enviable attributes, the thing I’ve always been jealous of is that his job requires him to create stuff that will outlive him.

I love advertising.

I think it is massively undervalued.

But the way the industry is going – focusing on the present, not building for the future – is scary as hell.

Not just in terms of the longevity of adland, but the ambitions of brands.

So to have a chance to work for a place that attracts clients who want to build rather than just plunder is very exciting for me.

Especially if there’s a shot of creating something that could outlive me.

Let’s just hope I can fool them into thinking I’m worth keeping around for more than a week …

Given my love of chaos, that might be over-ambitious.