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


Art Writes New Rules …

One of the things I love about this industry is our way of re-writing rules.

I don’t mean that in terms of post-rationalisation.

I don’t mean that in terms of rebellion.

I mean it in terms of letting creativity take us to new places.

That said, I think a lot of people forget this.

Clients and colleagues.

Specifically the one’s who encourage work to go where others have gone before.

Or where the brand has previously been.

Or just killing ideas before they’ve had a chance to start to evolve.

Of course I appreciate what we do has a lot of implications on our clients business.

That to get it wrong has serious ramifications.

But – and it’s a big but – doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t move you forward.

The opposite in fact.

They know this.

We know this.

And yet I hear words like ‘optimisation’ far more than I do ‘creativity’ these days.

Now I get it, you want to get every bit of value from something that you can, but our obsession with models and processes just limits our ability to invent and move forward.

Please don’t think I’m discounting the value of experience.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

But basing the future purely on what has happened in the past – specifically your individual past – is not experience, it’s blinkered.

Case in point.

Mouldy Whopper.

Here was a campaign that was attempting to do something differently. But rather than be curious about how it would be received, industry people – the same folks who are supposed to be pushing for creativity – were violently writing it off from the beginning. And when I pointed out that no one really knew what the campaign was trying to achieve – I copped it too.

Hell, I didn’t even like it very much, but I appreciated they were doing something different and evidence showed it was getting people to talk about preservatives in food – which was a positive for BK – so at the very least there were something positive in that. But then a senior industry person challenged me – said it was only people in the bubble of adland doing that – so when I proved he was wrong, he just disappeared. Happy to throw out personal opinion but not happy to be shown it was just his personal opinion. And that was my issue, we didn’t know how it would go. We had thoughts, we had opinions but we didn’t give it the time to see how it played out and apparently, it did pretty well by a whole range of metrics.

Of course, the great irony is that when you do have a brand that believes creativity can move things forward in unexpected ways, then you get accused of your job being easy.

I can’t tell you the amount of times people said to me, “it can’t be hard working on NIKE, they love being creative”.

Of course, the people who say this have never worked on NIKE and tend to be the first to criticise anything they think is ‘too creative’.

My god, when Da Da Ding came out, the wave of, “I don’t get it”, “it’s indulgent” was amazing.

But not as amazing as the fact that a lot of the abuse came from white men not based in India.

But I digress.

I love creativity.

I use that word specifically as I see it as being much bigger than advertising.

At least in terms of where the inspiration can come from and how it can be applied.

I am in awe when I see ideas taking shape. Things I never imagined coming together in the aim of changing something rather than just communicating it.

One of my greatest joys was running The Kennedys, because I saw that in possible its purest form.

From making takeaway coffee cups into dog frisbees to re=programming Street Fighter to represent the lessons they’d learnt over the previous year … was epic.

Sure, sometimes it was scary, frustrating and painful.

Sure, there were arguments, walk-outs and moods.

But as I wrote before, great work leaves scars and while that doesn’t mean it can’t be an exciting journey to be going on, it will have many twists and turns.

Or it will if you are pushing things enough.

And that’s what this post is about, because recently I read a story about John Kosh.

John was the creative director of Apple.

Not the tech company, but The Beatles.

John Lennon loved him and at 23, he found himself art directing the cover of their iconic album, Abbey Road.

What many people fail to realise is the band name was no where on the cover.

And while John had logic behind that decision, many in the industry thought differently.

Especially at their record company, EMI.

In fact, the only reason it ended up happening is that timing was so tight that it was allowed to slip through before anyone else could stop it.

Another example of chaos creating what order can’t.

What a story eh?

And before anyone starts saying I’m wrong …

I’m not saying the decision to remove the bands name from the cover made the album successful. This was The Beatles after all – the biggest, most successful band of all time – so it was always going to sell by the bucketload. However I am saying the decision to remove the bands name from the album cover helped make it iconic … which arguably, helped make it even more successful.

Not to mention make the zebra crossing on Abbey Road one of the busiest in the World.



What Happiness Looks Like …

Tomorrow I’m on holiday.

For over a week.

I am also turning 50.

Both of these pieces of news are no doubt going to fill you with happiness.

[Though there is a post tomorrow, so don’t get too excited]

Well, that is good, because this post is about just that.

Happiness.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me is Otis.

I loved the idea of kids – and at 18, I actually tried to adopt, hahaha – but after that, the idea was put on the back burner because frankly, I always thought I was too young.

I swear part of that is because Paul, my best mate, also didn’t have kids … so I was in some form of arrested development.

Anyway, one day Jill – who had been very patient – pointed out I wasn’t getting any younger so we decided to go for it.

Of course we then discovered the only we would pull this off is if we had IVF.

ARGH!

But then we got 2 pieces of luck.

First was being able to have the treatment in Australia. This was important because the process in Shanghai was so unbelievably weird, complicated and confusing, that we’re not sure we would have ever stood a chance there.

Secondly, the treatment worked first time. We are under no illusion how fortunate we were … though there was some sort of cosmic comedy karma in the fact we discovered Jill was pregnant on April 1.

Now I don’t regret being late to the Dad party.

The reality is I didn’t feel ready before.

OK, so I don’t know if men ever feel ready, but that’s probably less to do with being a Dad and more to do with the fear of the responsibilities associated with being a Dad.

And even though we are 5 years down the road, I still feel that.

Sure, maybe we could have had a brother or sister for him if we’d done it sooner. Sure, there’s a part of me that would have loved to do that. But apart from the fact I worry I may not get to see him grow old given my age, I can live with the fact I am soon to be 50 and I have a 5 year old bundle of beautiful mischief.

And what a bundle of beautiful mischief he is.

Kind. Compassionate. Emotional. Creative. Curious. Imaginative. Cheeky. Full of energy.

He is a loving son who wants to see the best in everything.

Part of me worries a bit about that.

I’ve already seen how some kids try to take advantage of that generosity, but in the end – all we can do is prepare him for how to deal with things that are sadly going to happen in his life and he is generally handling those tougher situations pretty well.

The main thing for me is for him to be able to enjoy his childhood.

I get that’s an incredibly privileged way to live … but I also think that’s something every parent would want for their children.

The fact is life passes so fast, we want to try and ensure he is given the chance to enjoy the present.

Be silly.

Try different things.

Resist placing pressure on him to do things he doesn’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love him to like playing football as much as he likes doing acting, but he knows to support Nottingham Forest, so I’m OK with it.

Which leads back to the point of this post.

Happiness.

When we lived in LA, we bought Otis a trampoline for his birthday

As you can see, he was very happy to get one.

In fact, he was so happy, he would want to do it all the time. Including at night, where he would go into the garage with a torch [where the trampoline was kept] and just bounce up and down.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

When we left America, I wanted to sell the trampoline and get another when we worked out where we were going to live. But Jill had other ideas. And as usual, she was right.

Because while the weather in London is not the same as the weather in LA, that trampoline was a guarantee of happiness for Otis.

Not just because it was a treasured possession from another place, but because he still loves to bounce on it.

For hours.

And hours.

And hours.

Which is a very long winded way to get to the point of this post.

As the weather is nicer, Otis likes nothing more than bouncing on his trampoline while being sprayed with water.

Yes, I know this sounds like the sort of torture the US government subjected inmates at Guantanemo Bay to, but he adores it.

Recently we captured a photo while he was doing it that, for me, sums up what happiness is.

As a feeling.

As a look.

As a parent.

As my son.

Which is why I hope this is one thing that never changes as he gets older.

Not just because I doubt it can be topped – regardless what he does – but because, for me, it is the definition of perfect.

Stay happy Otis.

You make your old man giggle with pride and delight.




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.



When Collaboration Goes Waaaaaay To Far …

In these days of working at home, the possibility of making a video-conference disaster are quite high.

I’ve already had some ‘incidents’ …

For example I was on a concall recently and Rosie – our cat – decided that would be the perfect moment to release the World’s biggest hairball right by the microphone of the laptop.

That went down well.

Then there was the moment Jill and Otis thought it would be fun to fire water pistols against the window I was working from. What they didn’t know was that I – you guessed it – was on a concall again.

The photo at the top of this post captures that moment.

Then there was the second ‘cat’ incident.

I was on a video conference with a client when I noticed them smiling.

“Hey Rob …”, they said, “… your cat seems to have climbed your wardrobe”.

Now given Rosie is so old she won’t even jump on my lap, I looked behind me to see what he was going on about.

“Oh,” I replied, “that’s not my cat, that’s a cuddly toy”.

The client laughed and said, “Wow, it looks very life like” to which I responded …

“I hope so, I paid a fortune to have it made to look exactly like my cat”.

He quickly changed the subject, but he had that unmistakable look in his eye … the look of, WHY HAVE I LET THIS LUNATIC WORK ON MY BRAND?

But for all those incidents, nothing – absolutely NOTHING – compares to this …

Do I feel sorry for ‘Jennifer’?

Sure. But my god, it made me laugh.

I know for a fact if I was on a zoom call and did this in front of my team, not one of them would say a word.

Not because they would be wishing they were blind, nor because they’d be vomiting on sight … but because they’d be busy instagramming the shit out of it.

And I don’t mind telling you, I’d be very proud of them for their evil genius.

Then I’d release all the bad instagram photos I’ve taken of them.



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.