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


Why Car Ads Are Killing The Car Category …

I wrote about an old car ad recently, but I recently saw another one that reinforced how far that category of advertising has fallen over the years.

Look at it.

Ridiculous.

Noticeable.

Full of charm and character.

Pretty much sums up the 2CV.

When was the last time you saw a car ad like that?

Hell, when was the last time you saw any car ad that made you give a shit, fullstop?

Sure there’s Wieden’s – and one of my absolute faves – Born of Fire for Chrysler and BBH’s wonderful Audi Clowns … but they are the absolute exception in a World dominated with ‘aspirational lifestyle’ imagery, topped with a bland, meaningless version of Just Do It as an endline.

It’s so sad because cars offer so much more than status and lifestyle.

And yet, that seems to be all car manufacturers want to spout – which is weird for a whole host of reasons.

One is that the future of the category is under severe threat by a generation who not only favour other options, but are increasingly not even bothering to learn to drive.

Second is the World is waking up to the environmental damage cars do and yet the infrastructure for the alternative – electric vehicles – is still insanely poor.

Finally is the fact that companies are actively pushing to lower salaries and full-time staff while increasing zero hour contracts, so who the hell do they think will be able to afford the cars they make anyway?

All in all, the category is crying out for someone who will disrupt the industry.

From ownership to running costs to marketing and everything in-between.

There’s a couple of companies exploring the possibilities … Volvo in particular are being pragmatic in these spaces … but even that might not be enough when the car manufacturers talk to the same [old] people, in the same places, with the same premise.

The last time I saw a long term brand idea for a car manufacturer that genuinely injected freshness and authenticity into the category through their work was Crispin’s ‘Mini’ … and that was back in 2002!!!

So while I hate looking backward and think most of the industries problems are because they are obsessed with ‘progressing’ through the rear view mirror, where car ads are concerned, they might do themselves a favour if they chose reverse gear.



And You Thought Corona Virus Was The Worst Thing Happening Right Now …

So recently, I got an email from a guy called Fergus at On Strategy.

He’s a planner, but more importantly, he’s a planner who wants to help all planners get better, more confident and more capable in their jobs.

Not in terms of giving them models or processes or other stuff that often takes the creativity out of strategy, but giving access to the stories, conversations and people who are often only accessible to those with a very expensive subscription to various industry platforms … which is ironic given most of these platforms claim to exist to raise the bar for the industry as a whole.

The reason this is so important is there’s a distinct lack of investment by agencies in training and industry events/membership – not to mention most of them don’t have a philosophy on how to look at the world of planning and creativity – so we end up with way too many planners thinking the only way they can learn the stories and craft of the discipline is by following the ego-filled rantings of various people on twitter.

While I’m definitely one of them, you’ll soon have another reason why this is a terrible way to ‘grow’ for most planners. Existing or wannabe.

So while Fergus is doing a very good thing – exemplified by the huge range of truly great planners he’s had on his show – he made a fatal error by [you guessed it] asking me to rant about the state of strategy and what I think we’re doing wrong and right.

While I’m sure Fergus won’t make that mistake again, I’m grateful he did and you can pick fault with all I said by listening here … though if I were you, I’d check out the much better and smarter stories from either my old mate Britton at W+K Portland, the brilliant Lucy Jameson of Uncommon – whose shadow is smarter than most planners brains combined (Fact!) – or ex-R/GA London’s Simon Wassef who explains how this office helped design, build and create the brand, story and system for Beats By Dre.

Much better uses of your time.

But then you already knew that.



Go Your Own Way But Only If It’s The Way We Want You To Go …

So I was at the tube station recently when I saw this …

Seriously … what the hell is this rubbish?

Do they honestly believe people will believe this?

That they can get on the plane and either:

1. Tell the pilot where they want to go, regardless where the plane is supposed to be going.

Or …

2. Tell the pilot which way to go, like they’re in a cab?

What the hell is wrong with these airlines?

I mean I thought that horrific Lufthansa ad was peak crap, but this is possibly even worse.

At the very least, it’s a tie for plane crash advertising … though, to be fair, Etihad only have one stupid statement on their ad compared to their German competitor, who not only talks about ‘air travel engineered around you’ [lie] but follows it up by suggesting the experience on their plane is better than having a drink on a roof top bar at sunset. [another lie]

Alright … alright … I admit I have an allegiance to Virgin Atlantic after years of working on their ads and having a close relationship with some of the people at the company, but not only have I never proposed making work that suggests the passenger is in control of where they go or how they fly, I know if I did they’d not only not buy it, they’d fire me on the spot.

What are Etihad thinking?

Who is advising them on this rubbish?

Why is it the best airlines – Virgin Atlantic and S7 and occasionally, Delta aside – have the worst advertising?

There is so much to write about air travel.

There is so much to talk about what it enables people to see, feel, experience and learn.

I once read a stat that said air travel is the only method of transportation that has reduced in price [based on average incomes] over the years. Or said another way, airlines are more effective at helping cultures interact and learn about each other than the United Nations.

But what do they end up saying?

Nothing.

They say nothing other than bland lies that no one will believe.

I can help you Etihad. I want to help you. You’re a great airline that deserves so much better.

Call me … I won’t even ask for free upgrades. Probably.



Add To Society, Don’t Just Take …

That quote is from my Dad.

I love it.

Not just because it’s from him, but because what it means.

You see he taught me – through his actions and behaviour – that the key to pretty much everything and anything is spending time really getting to know people rather than just focusing your attention on chasing the answers you want from them.

Given my Mum had a similar view means I guess I was always destined to place greater value in the authenticity of subculture than the simplistic, convenience of a focus group.

The reason I’m saying this is that everyone is banging on about the importance of speed, efficiency and optimisation, but are forgetting there’s a huge difference between information and insight … which may explain why society has so much but values so little.

What makes this even more frustrating is companies spend billions each year attempting to ‘earn loyalty’ from customers by trying to do things that they think are more personal to them … which is why I would suggest that if they’re serious about resonating with their audience [rather than just being mildly relevent] they could do with being more like my Dad. And Mum.



When Distinction Ends Up Being The Same …

Once upon a time, endlines meant something.

They were distinct, explained a brands value or purpose.

And more often than not, were packed with personality.

Then Dan Wieden fucked it up for everyone.

You see his famous JUST DO IT became the benchmark for all brands.

Marketing Directors craved a line that summed up who they were in 3 words.

The number of words was more important than what it said … which is why you now get this …

What a pile of shite.

Bland, contrived, sameness …

Literally doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do.

Designed to appeal to the ego of the board rather than the hearts of the audience.

All because we have fallen into the trap of believing simplistic equates to effectiveness.

It doesn’t.

Simple might do … but simplistic is the lowest common denominator that requires zero thinking because it makes zero impression.

It’s why I sit here and can remember endlines from my childhood more easily than end lines I watched 10 minutes ago.

Handmade by Robots … for Fiat.

Refreshes the other parts other beers can’t reach … for Heineken.

Do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo … for, ahem, Rolo.

Of course there’s a few modern endlines that work … GoPro’s ‘Be A Hero’ for example [though they went and fucked it up by changing it to utter blandom] … but in the main, companies seems to like endlines that sound like they know what they’re doing but don’t really say much at all.

At cynic we used to call these ‘Yoda Statements’, but what is even scarier is consultants are being paid a fortune to come up with this sort of twaddle.

That’s right, companies who claim to know how to help business grow are coming up with statements that literally make companies blend into everything else.

And yet they still are valued more highly by clients that companies who know how to push, provoke, inspire and capture the imagination of culture through creativity.

If anything tells you how mad the World is, surely one of them is that.



Research Is Great …

I heard a great story recently about the iconic movie, Die Hard.

Apparently in early test groups, viewers were confused why the lead character was pitched as a hero when he “keeps hiding and calling for help”.

I must admit, I laughed out loud when I heard this … mainly because it was a viewpoint that I don’t think I would have ever come up with, even if I was working on it 24/7 for a year.

It also probably says more about where the minds of American men were back when the movie came out than anything else.

And while learning this has ensured I will never watch the movie in the same way again, it does highlight the best and worst of focus groups.

I must admit I’m not a fan of this approach.

To be fair, it’s less the methodology and more about how clients are using what they find/hear.

Treating it as undeniable fact … something that needs to be followed to the letter.

But the reality is focus groups are – at best – a guide, rather than a blueprint.

Factors like group dynamics, vacuum thinking and the focus on answers, not understanding all combine to ensure there are a number of major flaws with this approach, and yet some blindly believe this is pathway to success.

Fools.

To be fair, I feel this way about pretty much all research methodologies.

Not because I’m a prick, but because context and dynamics continually shape our viewpoints and behaviours, which is why I don’t like relying on one form of research but a combination of different kinds … as long as one is spent out in culture, talking … listening … learning from the way the core of subcultures live.

Not just in terms of the specific thing we are working on, but life in general.

The language.

The associations.

The labels they use.

The pressures, laughter, fears and concerns …

Clothes … music … games … hashtags … iconography …

Their thoughts about situations not just their reactions or behaviours …

What they’ve started doing rather than what they’ve always done … the ‘edge effect’ that Martin and I talked about in our Cannes talk on Chaos last year.

But that approach is still seen as the exception rather than the rule.

Interacting with real life is still viewed as a novelty rather than a reality.

Which is why, if you have to use research, I like the way Dreamworks does it.

They don’t care about what people think about their stories or characters … they don’t give a shit about the highs or lows or things they’d change, they ask just one simple question …

Were you entertained?

That’s it.

It’s the only thing that matters to them.

Simple. Focused. Clear.

Because while they want people to enjoy what they do, they don’t want people to decide what they do …

Sure, they listen to what is said.

Sure, they sometimes decide to make changes based on what is said.

But they never do what they don’t agree with because you can’t steer a ship to port when you have a thousand captains all telling you where to go.

There’s a lot of people who could learn from this.

And I don’t just mean clients …



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.