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


Appetite For Destruction … The Advertising Edition

So I had a lovely time in Spain and now I’m ready to go hit Cannes.

I haven’t been there for over 12 years and I have to be honest, I’ve been very very OK with that.

While I have always enjoyed the talks they have, the other stuff has driven me nuts.

Pretending to be rockstars. Acting like animals. Just demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness.

Of course not everyone is like that and it’s always nice to catch up with old friends from around the World, but in my experience, I saw far too many people who were cliches of the industry so I am hoping with all my heart that has disappeared in my time away.

What I am looking forward to is the presentation we are giving on behalf of WARC.

As you know, the wonderful Mr Weigel and I started a planning school about a year ago.

While not a huge amount has happened, it is happening and the lovely/stupid [delete as appropriate] people at WARC invited us to give a talk about dangerous strategy.

To be honest, it’s quite a big subject to cover in 45 minutes so we’re going to focus on why every strategy needs more chaos in it.

Within this subject there will be all manner of unpacking. From the need to spend time in the real world, to the ridiculousness of what brand owners think passes for insight to why being interesting is literally the new right.

I hope it will be enjoyable for the people attending – I know Martin won’t disappoint – but it’s a great honour for me to be doing a project with probably the best planner in the biz right now … at the most prestigious event in the ad calendar …. with an organization dedicated to helping make smarter work rather than just smarter decks.

Then again, if they all agreed to be publicly associated with me, maybe they’re not as smart as we all think they are.

That, or Martin is doing it to use me as the physical manifestation of chaos.

Devious sod.

Come and say hi if you’re there or avoid me like the plague.

Back posting rubbish on Friday.

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When Is An Orange A Lemon?

So as you read this, I’ll be on a plane to Portland …

While this is good news for you as I’ll be away the whole of the week, it’s terrible news for my friends at NIKE and Wieden+Kennedy as I’ll be poking my head in their lives and business for the next 5 days.

To help everyone either celebrate or commiserate over this news, let me leave you with a very short post.

I saw the above ad on the underground recently …

What. The. Fuck?

I get it’s a nice looking razor … I get some people may even want to buy it because it’s a nice looking razor … but what the hell is the point of that copy?

Seriously, what are they trying to achieve with it?

In advertising, there is a phrase called ‘see say’ … where the copy, or voice over, explains what’s being shown, despite the fact that in the main, the person looking at the communication can see perfectly well what it is.

I’ve never understood why it continues to happen – just like I’ve never understood why people do presentations then read exactly what’s on the screen – but this ad is taking things to a whole new level, or should I say depth.

What pains me more is that Boots originally were a Nottingham company so I feel some sort of responsibility to their actions and behaviours … even though they’re no longer English and quite frankly, my attitude is more mental than sentimental.

What next, fruit ads that have copy explaining the fruit you’re looking at what its colour is?

If our industry is about helping brands resonate with culture, our work seems to suggest we’re either saying people are stupid or brand managers are.

Good job I’m going to hippyville so I can calm down before I explode.

See you in a week … where it will only be 2 days till my birthday.

[Hint Hint]



Consolation Prize …

I have talked about my love of Martin Parr before, which is why you can imagine my excitement when I thought I was going to pull off the ultimate collaboration between him and my side project with the masters of metal.

For absolutely fair reason, it sadly didn’t come off, but I did get a nice gift as a way of thanks … which ironically, makes me only wish it had worked out even more.

When I pitched the idea, I was asked why I thought it was a good idea.

I said I didn’t, I just thought it was interesting and sometimes, that’s all we have to go on.

The best thing with working with people who only think creatively is they totally get that … that sometimes, the intrigue of an idea is more important than the actual outcome – even if it ends up not being what you quite hoped.

I get why we all look for certainty in what we do. There’s a lot riding on it … money, employment, business … but the problem with certainty is that it is built on compromise and convenience, where the outcome is safe rather than alive.

It’s why Martin’s Weigel’s wonderful case for chaos is such an important read.

I have long been an advocate of this approach.

While it can scare people, the reality is chaos can create what order can’t and when we are all looking for ways to infect, infiltrate and shape culture, the best way to do it is to offer them something they find interesting and resonant, rather than boring and right.



Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.



How Far We Have Come …

When I was young, I loved cars.

OK, I still do … but back then, they held a particularly strong fascination.

Freedom. Independence. Status.

Now while there are many cars that are burned into my consciousness – the Ford Fiesta XR2, the Fiat X19, the Triumph TR7 to name a few – there is one that has a special place in my heart.

Not because I wanted one, but because in my provincial mind, it represented the pinnacle of success.

It was … a Ford Granda.

Yes … that tank like thing at the top of this post.

I know … I know … how utterly shameful.

As I said, it wasn’t a car I aspired to owning or driving – besides, I was years off being allowed to drive – but it was the biggest car on the road and in my small, little mind, that meant the driver was doing one of the big jobs in life.

You have to understand that I was entering as period of my life where school life was soon going to make way for the rat race … and while I was good at school, I was crap at exams so I was looking for direction in terms of a job that could one day, potentially let me own a Ford Granada.

Jesus, I was sad.

It gets worse … because I still remember seeing a man drive a BMW 7-Series when they first came out and going up to him to ask what he did for a living as I couldn’t believe anyone in West Bridgford – my home town – could ever have a job that let them buy a car like that.

The irony was it was less about having something that would convey status and success to the outside world and more about setting a goal that would let me think I have done OK in life if I ever got to own one.

Which I didn’t .

The reason for all this is that I recently watched a video for the launch of the MK II Granada.

It’s long, but it’s worth watching for a whole host of reasons.

Part of it is because it highlights how far the car industry has evolved since 1984 interns of technology and what they regard as driver/passenger comfort and sophistication … part of it is because it’s funny to see them make big claims about small features [digital clock anyone?] … but the biggest part is how much technology we still regard as luxury is over 30+ years old.

It doesn’t make me want a Granada, but it does help me feel less foolish rating them in 1984.



Gary V Proves The Importance Of Self Awareness …

As I’ve written a few times previously, I am not Gary Veynerchuck’s biggest fan.

From rewriting history to celebrating inauthenticity
… Gary seems to be an individual who represents almost the opposite of everything I value.

Of course, given he is more successful than I’ll ever be, you could argue you should listen to him rather than me – but then values shouldn’t be evaluated against what you have, but how you live.

Anyway I digress because I recently read something that I agree with him on.

No … this is not a joke.

It’s the art of delegation.

This is what Mr V said …

I agree with him.

Too many people completely miss the point of what delegation means.

They think it’s about handing over the shit you don’t want to do, but it’s not – it’s enabling colleagues to bring their talent and way of seeing the World into a project you’re working on in a way where they can win on their terms.

That doesn’t mean you have to blindly support whatever they do.

But it is about backing, supporting and encouraging them every step of the way.

Letting them do what they think is the way to win rather than expecting them to redo what you’d do.

To do that, you do have to let go of your ego.

To do that, you do have to have faith in the talent you work with.

To do that, you do have to want to see your team grow and progress.

In essence, you have to open the door to opportunity and let your team walk in and do their thing … it’s not about opening the door for only you to walk in and leave everyone else behind.

Making sure your team feel backed is vitally important.

Giving them the time and space to think, challenge and be challenged is everything.

But most of all, handing over the spotlight to them with your full support is – at least to me – what delegation is all about.

Not keeping things from them.

Not limiting what they want to do.

Not stopping them from forging their own direction and destination.

I know it can be hard, but it’s also worth it because while you are responsible for the standards being produced – doing it in a way that lets your team grow and develop is the foundation of management success … because the reality is when you get to run a department, success should be based as much on what your team achieves as what you personally do.

If they win, you win.

Simple as that.

Maybe there is hope for Mr V after all.

Maybe.

Though ‘a lack of ego’ and ‘Gary V’ have never appeared in the same sentence before and likely never will again.



Signs You Know You’re In Italy …

So as you all know, I recently lost my Aunt and so travelled to Italy for her funeral.

On my return back to England – now with an ability to see through the tears – I realized there were many things in Italian cultural context that really reflected some of the unique values of the place.

From the signage that appeared on the aircraft hangers at Milan airport …

[yes, a bloody aircraft hanger]

… through to the stylish [at least comparatively to the UK equivalent, on the left] of their toy ‘play people’.

There is something so effortlessly stylish over there, proven by the fact things that shouldn’t work on paper, somehow do.

Now many would say that is the power of confidence, but I think it’s more than that.

I think the beauty of the Italian culture is their ability to be comfortable with being authentic.

Of course there’s exceptions … and yes, I’m definitely being generalistic … but there’s a wonderfulness in how much people seem to believe a successful life is more about how you live rather than what you have.

Or how something makes you feel rather than what it makes someone think about you.

Which is why I find Italian beaches are the happiest beaches because the undercurrent of competitiveness and social judgement that often infiltrates other countries sand and sea just isn’t there. Instead, there feels a common spirit of ‘happy contentedness’ … where the simple act of being in a place with people you love is embraced and enjoyed by all.

And when everyone loves and respects everyone else for living with that authenticity, then things like body shape and beach fashion just don’t really come into it … because at the end of the day, you’re not trying to impress others, you’re just comfortable being yourself.