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

No Wonder American’s Love Their Teeth, Their Dentists Are Like A Holiday Camp …

When I was a kid, a visit to the dentist was a thing to be scared of.

To be honest, it shouldn’t have because I had great teeth … but there was always that chance something might happen and that scared the hell out of me.

If further evidence of my dental naivety/good teeth was needed, when I finally did have to have some treatment – a wisdom tooth removal, when I was 14 – I was in utter shock that they were literally pulling the tooth out of my gob as I assumed they’d give my gums an injection and it would fall out.

The weirdest bit of all is that when you left the dentist, they gave you a sweet.


Though now I think of it, it probably was their way of guaranteeing further business from you down the line.

And given how bad my teeth are these days, it seems that was a brilliant strategy.

Evil. Geniuses.

Now I appreciate when I was a kid, the World was a very different – and younger – place, but having just taken Otis to the dentist, I’m jealous how ace his experience is.

For a start the interior has been decked out in different animal themes.

From Giraffe’s to Panda’s … each room has a different theme to help kids feel they’re somewhere special and different.

Then there’s the video games for them to play in reception or – if they’re too young – a huge aquarium for them to look at.

But it’s when they are having treatment the real difference happens.

Not because there’s a video screen showing cartoons.

Or wireless headphones so you can hear the movie not the drill.

Or even the sunglasses so you don’t let the brightness of the dentist light affect you.

Or even the balloon [not sweets] they give you as you leave the building.

It’s the way they make sure they spend time explaining what each instrument is and what it does. Letting the kid hold it, hear it … get an understanding of what it does so it stops being a fearsome object of pain and simply a instrument of health.

Whatever stress they have is reduced.

They feel they’re in a safe environment.

A special environment.

With people who you won’t fuck you over but actually want you to have an exciting experience with a great result.

It turns a visit to the dentist from a scary experience to a positive one.

Even an awaited one.

All because they give the time and space for patients emotions and fears to be calmed, which gives them – and their parents – the confidence to let the dentist do their thing. That doesn’t just result in more efficient treatment but makes the parent feel OK about being charged an arm and a leg because their precious child had an experience that is the absolute opposite of what they feared they’d have.

Now I know creativity needs a place where chaos and curiosity is allowed to explore and wander – something we don’t get enough of at the best of times – but in terms of getting clients into the right frame of mind to allow agencies to do their thing without skeptical, questioning and damning eyes, adland could learn a lot from American Dentists.


It’s Only A Mistake If You Don’t Learn From It …

One of the things I find amazing about adland is their inability to review what they just did … whether that was a pitch, a big meeting or just a campaign.

Basically, it things have gone well, they act like they are invincible.

And if things have gone less well, they either ignore it or blame it all on the client.

Look, I get that we have too many meetings.

I get no one wants to be the person who brings the energy of positivity down or make a bad situation worse, but reviews are super useful.

Not just for what you did wrong, but what you did right.

And yet so few agencies seem to do it …

Maybe part of it is that it can quickly turn into a blame game.

Maybe part of it is because people feel they can’t be honest, either for fear or reprisal or fear of hurting egos.

Or maybe it’s just because ‘reviews’ are so closely associated the ‘annual review’, people feel they can’t do it without masses of paperwork and 360 degree feedback.

But in my experience, an honest, objective review can make a huge difference – not just in personal performance but in terms of giving confidence to the team moving forward.

For me, there are a few key rules to do it well.

1. It can not be more than 30 minutes in length.

2. It has to happen within 48 hours of the event that justifies the review.

3. It has to involve all the people involved, not just the key players.

4. No comment can be personal, you win as a team and you fail as a team.

5. Everyone gets to say 1 thing they liked [about the process/pitch/work] 1 thing they’d change [about their approach to the process/pitch/work] and 1 thing they’ve learned [about how to improve the process/pitch/work]

That’s it.

Now I am not denying that a key element to it’s success is the tone of the meeting.

Too serious and it makes people nervous to say anything valuable.

Too light and no one takes it seriously.

But if you ensure there is an air of inclusion, positivity and the sense it’s being done to help everyone become even better, I find it is 30 minutes that people find genuinely valuable.

Of course it’s not just something for show.

All comments must be noted, distributed and then reviewed prior to the next situation where a post-review is likely … but once you get in the habit of it, those 30 minutes can have a lifetime of positive effect.

I wish more people did it … if not for the agencies benefit, but their own.

I promise I won’t write any more serious posts like this in the future. Sorry.

Age Is Attitude …

I’m old.

In fact by adland rules, I’m a bloody dinosaur.

That’s not because I’m switched off to contemporary culture – quite the opposite – but because the industry is ageist to the core.

The reality is anyone at my age tends to face an interesting dilemma in terms of how they are perceived …

Be old but think young and the industry sees you as a try-hard.

Be old and act old and the industry sees you as past-it.

Both things are wrong of course and it’s one of the reasons I always loved Wieden because they valued creativity rather than devaluing age. Of course, you have to keep the flow of new, exciting, dangerous talent coming into the place … but in my experience, when people have an open mind, the young learn from the old and vice versa and the end result is something even more potent than it would have otherwise been.

But maybe that’s just me trying to post rationalise my value.

The thing is, as I get older, I don’t want to subscribe to the ‘life’ I am supposed to have.

That doesn’t mean I aspire to living a long-term midlife crisis any more than I want to spend my time gardening, drinking wine or playing golf … if people want to do that, that’s fine, but I want to indulge in the things that continue to fascinate, intrigue and challenge me.

I wrote about this once before, but the best and worst thing about growing older is that you are continually discovering things you want to explore – in fact, the more you explore, the more you discover additional things you want to explore – but underpinning all this is the unshakable knowledge the time you have to do it is more limited than ever and so there will be paths that will be unexplored.

That’s quite the mindfuck.

Years ago a man I met said, “you know you’re getting old when you can’t feasibly double your age”.

At the time I remember laughing but now I’m in that situation, it’s confronting.

I have so much I want to do. See. Try. Explore.

Then there’s the things like seeing my son forge his own path.

While spending more time with my beloved wife.

More memories. Less dreams.

The idea that time is getting shorter can really fuck you up.

And that’s why for me, it’s about trying to ensure my family life a life of fulfillment.

I don’t want to subscribe to irrelevance.

Sure, one day I might be regarded as that for companies, but this is not about them – but me.

My Mum always had a desire live at the speed of contemporary culture.

She didn’t want to feel she was left behind.

That didn’t mean she did things she didn’t want to do, but she also didn’t want to live in a bubble where her context for life was far removed from the realities of life so she was open to the new and actively explored it … not in the bullshit way advertising portrays it, but in her interest in culture, from comedians and artists to music and politics.

That’s an amazing lesson to be taught – one I wholly subscribe to – which is why I think the industry is missing the point when it labels people over 40 as over-the hill. For me, rather than judge individuals by their physical; age, they should judge them by what they bring … what they challenge … what they change … because it’s the one’s who refuse to be labelled who can make exciting things happen.

The Best Monday Of Your Life. Unless You Live In NYC …

So the good news is this is the one and only post of the week.

I know … could today be any better?!

You see as you read this, I’m on a plane zooming my way to NYC.

I must admit I’m super excited about it.

Not just because I miss the rush of an intense city … nor because I will get to see friends who I miss very much … but because I’ll be doing two things that are going to be new to me.

One is I’ll be judging the final round of the North American Effies.

The other is that I’ve been invited to talk to design gods, Pentagram.

OK, so I’ve judged the Effies before and I’ve done more than my fair-share of talks, but what’s exciting to me about this is that it’s a totally new context.

The reality is American advertising is very different to the advertising I am used to, make and – to a certain degree – love.

It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just different.

More bombastic. More spell-everything-out. More leave-nothing-to-chance-or-interpretation.

It’s also much more rational and focused on driving immediate sales than creating a position in culture that builds sustainable brand value.

OK, not every brand is like that – and I also know many other markets are becoming more and more like this – but as someone who passionately believes in setting long-term directions, not to mention true culture driven ideas, it’s going to be interesting how I view the results versus some of my fellow judges.

As for the talk …

Well, we all know I can do that in my sleep, but I must admit I’m super excited to be doing it at Pentagram.

For those of you who don’t know, Pentagram are one of the undisputed gods of design.

Literally, one of the gods.

Given it’s not that long ago I was only using the IMPACT I must admit to being somewhat surprised they asked me to come talk to them about my perspective on design, but then I discovered it was less about me and more about the work I’m doing with a certain famous rock band which is why I felt the best way to handle the challenge is to only have 1 image and make that image truthful to what I am sure they’ll leave thinking about me.

Especially when they see my Birkenstocks.

So while I know it’s Monday and you’re probably not looking forward to the week ahead, I hope this post has helped offer you a glimmer of hope for the next 5 days. Unless – of course – you’re based in NYC, and then your week is even darker than you could ever have imagined.

See you next week …

A Picture Tells A Thousand Data Points …

One of the things I love is hearing anecdotes of how people got companies to do things they initially didn’t want to do.

It is particularly of interest to me when those anecdotes are based around creative approaches to achieving their goal.

Recently I heard one that I think is of particular brilliance.

While the move towards electric cars is inevitable, the reality is that unless manufacturers make their cars highly desirable – in terms of appearance, function and excitement – it’s going to be a slow sell.

Let’s face it, Tesla’s success has little to do with how they’re powered and more to do with the fact it borrows from the sort of ‘future tech’ we were sold in cartoons as little kids.

Silent? Check.

Gull wing doors? Check.

Central computer screen? Check.

Self driving abilities? Check.

Hyper-speed button? Check … even though they call it ‘insane’.

But as cool as this all is – and it is – the reality is it comes at a price that most car manufacturers can’t get away with, so they have to try and find ways to offer desirability but at a lower unit price.

Which leads to this story I heard recently …

Because of the batteries needed to power the new generation of electric cars, the reality is most cars will be designed to be slightly taller to accommodate them. In turn, what this means is that to stop the cars looking slightly weird, they require bigger wheels – which adds a huge cost to the manufacturing process.

So the story I heard is that the designer of one of these cars was being told by his board that they would not sanction the bigger wheels as the price was too high.

He tried all manner of ways to get them to change their mind, but they felt it was a purely aesthetic issue and one they could live with.

So as a final act of desperation, he decided to do a presentation to the board about the importance of perspective.

In his presentation, he showed 2 pictures.

This …

And this …

The top he said would be how their car would look with the smaller, cheaper wheels.

The bottom would be how their car would look with the bigger, more expensive wheels.

Or said another way, one would look weird, one would look normal.

Apparently the board smiled.

Then approved his recommendation.

The reason I’m saying this is that we live in times where there appears – at least to me – an over-reliance on data to explain/decide/justify everything.

Of course data is important, but unless you do something with it that your audience can relate to, it’s pointless. And that’s why I love the above story so much because what the electric car designer did, was remind us how visual storytelling can influence or frame an argument in in ways data alone can’t always achieve.

Worth remembering next time you are writing a deck and filling it with a 100 pages of data explanation.

Variety Is Not The Spice Of Life, But The Essence Of It …

As I’ve written many times, my parents drilled into me that a life of fulfillment is much more valuable than a life of contentment.

As I’ve also written many times, I didn’t realise what this really meant until I hit my late 30’s.

And yet, despite that, I seemed to have embraced their philosophy in how I was living my life, including who I hired.

Put simply, I gave always valued someone who lived an interesting life more than someone who lived an interesting advertising life.

You’d think the two are connected, but that’s not always the case.

And that’s why I liked – and still like – people who have tried stuff.

It almost doesn’t matter if it worked out or not, the key is they’ve tried things and can recognise why it all turned out as it did.

Even if that’s about acknowledging the importance of luck.

So people who have travelled, worked in different industries, toured in a band, studied contemporary art, been arrested, written a fanzine, graffiti’d the hell out of things, created stuff – even if that’s kids beds – will always be initially more attractive to me than someone who studied advertising, worked in advertising and made advertising.

That doesn’t mean people who live an ‘ad-life’ aren’t good or valuable – of course they are – but I genuinely believe the more experiences you have, the more you will contribute to ideas that don’t just differentiate themselves from the usual ad noise, but offer a point of view that is undeniably infectious creatively and culturally.

Because as Peter Ustinov, the great actor, once said …

“People who reach the top of the tree are those who haven’t got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom”.

But here’s the thing …

While I am celebrating ‘generalists’, this is more than just someone who flitters from one thing to another.

I’m talking about those who commit to something. Throw themselves into what they do. Are seriously wounded when it goes wrong but have it open doors to something new they may never have considered without.

And while outsiders may see all this as random acts of experimentation, is actually a continuous stream of fulfillment because the people who do this stuff know the more they live, the more they have to offer.

Or to paraphrase Mr Ustinov, the more you explore, the more see what’s possible.

Weigel Isn’t Bad …

Martin Weigel.

The professor.

The planners planner.

The miserable bastard that never returns your emails.

Well he might be all of those things, but to me, he’s my mate.

What’s more, I think I’m his mate too – which means he’s not nearly as clever as everyone thinks he is.

But the reality is, he has his place as one of the best because he is. That simple.

Not just because he’s as smart as shit … but underpinning his intellectual ramblings are very simple, but powerful, beliefs that benefit everyone he is interacting with.

I say this because I recently heard his answer to the question, ‘What should a planner do and care about?’ to which he responded with this …

That’s it.

4 lines.

But those 4 lines cover so much.

Vision. Creativity [Not advertising]. Innovation. Cultural Resonance. Ambition. Action. Focus.

In other words, strategy that is designed to liberate rather than play nicely with others.

It’s what makes him so good and the work he does so great.

I should hate him, but I can’t …

And it’s not just because I bloody love his bloody lovely other half.

The reason I say this is that one of the things I’ve been shocked about in America is the standard of planning.

There … I’ve said it.

No, it’s not because I’m a snobby Brit.

No, it’s not because I don’t understand the cultural differences.

It’s because a lot of it is bad.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what is out there and in many cases it’s either strategy that the individual has used for pretty much every client they’ve worked on regardless of the situation, or at worst, it’s a snappy worded version of the client brief.

Or just bad taglines that say nothing and mean nothing.

In other words, packaging rather than planning.

Now of course there are some epic planners here – I am fortunate to have a bunch who work with me and there’s a bunch who I wish would work with me – but there has been a bunch who I’ve met/spoken to who have just underwhelmed.

I recently met one who said their main approach to strategy was ‘owning the social platform’.

I had to ask 3 times if I had heard right, and I had.

And when I said they weren’t the sort of planner I wanted in my team, he said I didn’t know what I was doing.

OK, there’s probably more than an element of truth in that, but even my worst planner skills is better than that.

And yet this individual was a senior planner in a good agency.

In other words, he was responsible for helping brands decide the direction they were going to invest millions of dollars in.


The World has gone mad.

There is a craft to planning.

You can’t outsource it all to data and media.

Of course those people have a place – and an important one at that – but the hard work is still done by those who realize it’s not about the ad, but the direction, tension and opportunity for the brand and culture.

The one’s who can think of ideas that aren’t really just an executional idea.

Which is why we need more Weigel’s than Gary V’s.

Because flash means nothing if it doesn’t address what I now call, Weigel’s ‘Four Principals Of Worthiness’.