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


Don’t Blame The Insight, Blame The Person Claiming It …

So a few weeks ago, the very lovely Neil – of Only Dead Fish fame – invited me to talk at Google Firestarters on insights.

This is a subject I’ve written and talked about for years, so it was right up my alley … and yet, despite that, I ended up writing a presentation where the underlying insight appears to be, ‘don’t ask Rob to write presentations on insights’.

For reasons I’m unsure of [though I think ‘fill this blog with something before the end of the year’] I thought it might be good to put it up here for others to look at/abuse. However, as it’s my usual ‘picture, no words’ presentation style, it probably will make little sense … but if it’s any consolation, that’s how the people who heard me give it, thought too.

If you want the general theme of the deck, it’s insights are important because culture is important … and if you know how the culture around categories think, act, operate and interact, then you have information that not only lets you create work that feels born from inside the culture, but can open doors to new possibilities.

Oh, and the bit about the Titanic is that I’m amazed this discussion is still going on because we all know insights matter, it’s where we’re getting them from and how we’re using them that is key. And yet – as an industry – we like to debate the things that we know matter and ignore the fact the majority of the work that’s being put out is an exercise in how to bore the fuck out of everyone with insanely and inanely rational communication.

And yes, I blame clients as much as planners and agencies for this.

It’s like they have forgotten that no one cares about what they care about and the job is to make them give a damn – and the most powerful way to do that is to use creativity in wonderfully mad and chaotic ways because [as Mr Weigel says, both in public and in my presentation] you can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck.

The Henry Ford slag off is simply that he is well known for saying that if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d say a faster horse and my point is, if someone said that, any half decent planner should be able to workout they’re trying to say they want to get from point A to point B quicker than they currently are able.

And if that isn’t an amazing brief, then I don’t know what is.

Anyway, if you want to see the deck, including one of my favorite ever slides – the pic at the top of this post – click here: Firestarters

Enjoy … if that is the right word. Ahem.

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Look Up And Help …

A few weeks ago, as I was going home on the train, a lady got on the tube and announced to everyone in the carriage that she was an ex-drug addict, ex-criminal and homeless.

She then stated that she was not going to go back to her old life and was asking if anyone had any work she could do for them or spare a little change.

She was met with silence.

Worse, she was met with silence from people who all suddenly started looking down at her feet – petrified to make eye contact.

All credit to the lady, she pointed out that they didn’t have to look away because she was the one – in her words – humiliating herself in a bid to keep doing the right thing.

I watched this episode unfold with disgust … so I got up, gave the woman some money and loudly announce that she was an inspiration and I hope all works out for her.

After that, I sat down and enjoyed the feeling there were now 2 people on the train no one wanted to make eye-contact with.

I’m not saying this because I am seeking any praise for what I did, I’m doing it because for a human being to do that is a cry for help and for people to want to ignore it or avoid it is horrific.

Sure we all have busy lives.

Sure we all have pressures and expectations.

But lets hope we’re never in a situation where we have to ask a train of strangers for help because based on this interaction, most would turn away.

There’s a major issue going on right now that we are fast becoming a cashless society. To be honest, I was fortunate to have some Euros on me, and that was only because I’d been in Amsterdam. It’s an issue I am asking R/GA and the Virgin Money Foundation [who help me with Human_2] to look at solutions, because it’s only going to get worse.

But – and it’s a big, big but – if you don’t have cash or you don’t even want to give cash, you can at least give these people respect because they are people … real, live, living people with feelings and emotions … and just having someone acknowledge they exist is better than what they encounter on a daily basis.



Identity Is Defined By Us Or Defined By Others …

So finally we have the feedback on the latest APSOTW assignment.

First of all I owe everyone an apology.

This has taken way longer than it was supposed to.

I’d like to blame the time it took to get the judges feedback, but I can’t … because it was all down to me.

Of course I can point you to moving to a new country, finding a new house and starting a new job, but that’s still pretty pathetic even though it’s true.

So this submission got the most that I think we have ever had.

This is brilliant and I’m so glad so many people decided to have a go.

Of course, part of that is because it seemed relatively simple, but as you’ll read from the feedback below – you’ll soon learn it wasn’t.

But that aside, the fact you had a go is something to be celebrated.

It means you wanted to get better … put yourself out there … try something that makes you vulnerable and for that I say a huge congratulations.

I meet too many people who think that because they have a job, they have ‘graduated’.

The thing is, this job is one that is always developing because people are changing … so actively wanting to improve is something that should be celebrated and for that I – and all the judges – applaud you.

So as we had so, so many entries, we are going to find it almost impossible to write a review on every one. If you want specific feedback on your submission, drop me an email [on the same address as the assignment submission] and I’ll get back to you.

[Promise it will be quicker than this feedback has taken]

As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of people thought this was an easy task … the reality is it wasn’t.

In fact, in some regards, I would say this was one of the toughest assignments we had set over the 10+ years APSOTW has been going.

In truth, post-rationalising is always a very difficult – if not impossible – task.

We tend to focus on the obvious elements when in truth, so much of the work we make is shaped by smaller little tweaks.

Not only that, but narrowing an issue as complex as this into a single sentence is always going to be super hard … so hard, that some of you went over the limit.

But the really interesting about this assignment is how many people basically wrote a headline for the campaign rather than an insight that could allow other work to be developed from it.

For example there were a lot of submissions that talked about ‘mirrors’.

Now I get why – because the execution focuses on that – but this wasn’t about mirrors or reflections, it was about identity and how you define yourself or let others define you.

In essence, you let the execution get in the way of your point of view.

Overall, the submissions tended to fall into one of four different groups:

1 A headline that summed up the execution. Not the idea behind the execution. The execution.

2 A fortune cookie/pseudo Confucius-style statement about being a man. Any man. Or skin.

3 A smart – but generalist – insight how men define themselves in the World today.

4 An overly complex description of how culture is formed which just felt like an attempt to show how smart you were.

Now don’t get despondent with that list of crimes, I see highly paid planners do it all the time.

The irony is our job is to make the complex simple, not make things even more difficult and yet time and time again the discipline tends to forget this.

If you want proof, just read 90% of effectiveness award submissions where the ‘insight’ is about half a page long.

ARGH.

But back to this …

When looking through the submissions, the judges agreed that to catch our eye, an entry had to have 3 things.

+ Recognition of the cultural tension underpinning the campaign. [This is about black culture, a lot of the statements could have been about anyone coming of age, so to speak]

+ A clear and concise point of view that makes us look at the potential of the idea in a bigger – or different – way.

+ The ability to provoke a reaction … whether that would be with creatives, clients or culture as a whole.

Sadly, we didn’t find that many that did, however there were some that caught our eye.

Divyanshu Bhadoria:
“More than a grooming regimen, shaving is a ritual to preserve the story of our identity”.

Wayne Green: :
“Don’t let a beard hide your pride of who you are and where you are from”.

Andy Wilson:
“Shaving reveals the dignity that is embedded in your skin”.

If truth be told, they could all probably be sharper … but not only did they all capture the tension between identity and conformity and the role shaving has in it, they were favoured by the creative judges as points of view that made them excited about looking at a category in a new way, but a true way.

And that was the point of the task … to take something and capture it’s essence in a way that would provoke a tighter – yet bigger – idea to come to the fore.

It’s tough … it’s very fucking tough … and as I said in the assignment, it’s all pretty subjective, but the judges were weirdly pretty much all in alignment from the beginning, which is why we got to our decision.

So a huge thank you to everyone for taking part.

I hope, after reading the feedback, if you look back at your entry you will see where you could have improved it.

As I said, if you want specific feedback on your entry, send me a mail and if Wayne, Andy and Divyanshu could send me their addresses, I’ll be sending a small prize to you as acknowledgement of your work.

Hopefully this has been a fun and useful exercise. Whatever the feedback, the fact you did it is important … to you, to us and to the industry at large … so I hope you will continue when the next APSOTW assignment comes out early in the new year.

A special thanks to the wonderful Maya Thompson who brought this assignment to me and changed the way I will look at the world forever [in collaboration with her collective of Chelsea and Bree] and a big happy holidays/new year etc etc to all of you who took part. [God, that feels weird to write in only November]

Till next time …



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.



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.



Service Without The Script …

I’ve written a lot about customer service over the years.

Or specifically, bad customer service.

And the ironic thing is the worst examples tend to be organisations who literally say they’re in the ‘service industry’.

I suppose that’s why I loved how Claridge’s hotel train customer service to their staff – especially their belief in moments of stubbornness – because while they set incredibly high standards and ways to deal with situations, they always leave room for their staff to act in ways they feel is in their guests best interests … even if their guests don’t realise it yet.

And for me, that’s where customer service becomes it’s most powerful.

Where it moves from service to care.

Not just in terms of the obvious things, but reading between the lines.

Where it goes beyond just anticipation, but true consideration for the other party.

In many ways, it’s the ultimate demonstration of loyalty …

Not expecting it from your audience and instead, providing it to them in return.

Proof that they matter.

Proof that they care.

Proof they need each other.

Recently I saw an amazing example of this.

Surprisingly it came from a Chief Executive Officer.

More surprisingly, it came from a Chief Executive Officer of a football club.

And even more surprising than that, it came from the the youngest Chief Executive Officer in the entire football league.

Now to be fair, it’s the CEO of Barnsley Football Club … a club that is known for how much it values its community and fans.

But even that doesn’t quite capture what Gauthier Ganaye – the Barnsley CEO – did.

Read the letter below … then next time you’re with a client who talks about customer service or social listening, show them it and ask them how they’re going to demonstrate how much they value their audience, rather than just saying it in their corporate mission statement.

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PS: For the record, he – nor Barnsley – promoted this, the receiver was the one who made sure this act of loyalty, compassion and service got to a bigger audience.



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.