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


Who Knew George W Bush Was So Insightful?
August 11, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Context, Insight

Remember when George W was elected?

The World’s opinion was a mixture of fear and ridicule and yet I bet we’d all have him back in a heartbeat compared to the mess that is Trump.

But that isn’t what this post is about, it’s about an article I read on Bush and Bill Clinton and the close friendship they have developed between each other. [No seriously, check this out]

Before I go on, this is the article.

To be honest, I found it enlightening.

Not just because you learnt the foundation of their friendship was based on how they respectfully handled each others victory and defeat, but because Bush brilliantly explains how a professional reputation can be forged and destroyed.

“The Presidency is often defined by the unexpected. It makes the job interesting.”.

I love that.

It’s a great lesson to us all.

Sure, there are more eyes on the President’s actions than a planner in LA [or NYC, Shanghai and London] but the principal is the same, how you are viewed by others is by how you deal with the unexpected.

And if that scared you to death, here’s the good news.

Given the majority of us are exposed to unexpected events on a fairly regular basis, you have the chance to redefine or cement your reputation on a continual basis … which might be a useful thing to remember next time a crisis hits your plate.

Wow, I’ve just been nice about George W but then, as I wrote before, it appears the Bush family become far more human with age.



Why Wonder Woman Was Always Wonderful …
August 4, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Culture, Empathy, Insight, Women

So as we all know, the recent movie ‘Wonder Woman’ was a massive success.

What is even more gratifying is that it was a movie that studios had resisted making for years – thinking it would never be popular.

Now I am sure if you were to ask them what those reasons were, they would have many – but I’m also sure that if you were to hear them, the overwhelming reasons we’d determine from their answers would be sexism and prejudice.

But this isn’t about the movie, it’s about the 70’s TV show.

OK, so there might be people who come on here who have no idea what I’m talking about, but decades ago, Wonder Woman was a TV show staring Lynda Carter.

While I remember it, I don’t remember much about it other than it was different to the usual 70’s superhero TV shows of Batman and The Six Million Dollar Man.

But here’s the thing, while I categorise it as a classic ‘entertainment’ show from my childhood, a recent interview with Lynda Carter makes me realise it was so much more.

Not that long ago I met someone who asked what my earliest memories about black people on television were.

When I thought about it … it was Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch and the adopted brothers from the show Different Strokes. As soon as I said it, I realised the significance. My frame of reference for any black person on television during my formative years was a guy on the edge of society and 2 kids ‘saved’ by a rich, white person.

Fuck, that’s horrible.

But imagine how it must have felt if you were a black kid in the 70’s.

Fortunately I grew up with parents who would never let me get seduced by those media stereotypes – not to mention a diverse group of friends who made sure I would never define someone by their colour or gender – but I know not everyone is like that.

Which leads back to Lynda Carter and Wonder Woman.

While all the plaudits for female empowerment are going to the recent movie, the fact is the star of the original TV show was endeavoring to do that decades ago.

While the significance of her actions may have passed me by, I imagine if you were a little girl in the 70’s watching it, it didn’t.

Having a show about a ‘super woman’ must have been good in itself, but having a show where the lead actress approached her role by saying, “… she didn’t have any particularly super X-Ray vision or anything, she just wasn’t going to put up with anything from anybody” must have been absolutely empowering and inspiring.

Seriously, when I read that, I wanted to stand up and cheer

Role models are vital.

Not just for ‘minorities’ to feel heard and valued, but for the majority to not allow prejudices to be nurtured.

So while society may be focusing on the empowering actions of The Spice Girls, Cindy Gallop, Gal Gadot or Emma Watson … it’s worth remembering and celebrating the original Wonder Woman – literally and metaphorically – Lynda Carter.



Why A Bin Is Better Than Earth Hour …

I’ve written about my skepticism of Earth Hour.

And while I appreciate any bit of good is good, I feel the problem with Earth Hour is that it lets people off the hook for the remainder of the year just because they turned their lights off for a few hours on a single day.

Recently I saw this …

Yes, it’s a bin.

A simple bin in the airport.

But what I love about it is the fact it says LANDFILL, rather than rubbish.

Maybe this is nothing new – maybe this is just a byproduct of having lived in China for the past 7 years – but by ensuring I knew exactly what was going to happen to what I put inside it, it made me look at what I was doing.

I’d like to think I give a shit about the environment, but I can honestly say that bin had a stronger effect on me than Earth Hour. Not only that, but that bin won’t let me off the hook for the rest of the year. It will be there – every time I pass it – reminding me that my choices will determine how much I poison the planet.

The other thing this does is highlight my big problem with adland … which is that it loves to communicate problems rather than solve them.

When a bin [and let’s remember, this is not the first time this has happened] produces more effective solutions than much of adland – and certainly what adland awards at shows like Cannes – maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we view is creativity.

Please don’t think I am pissing on the power of communication or ignoring the importance of craft and exploration – of course I’m not – but for an industry that celebrates the freedom of creativity, it’s amazing how limited we are in our execution of it.

Of course part of that is our ego – because not only do we like to think that we can solve all the problems of the universe, but we feel simply ‘renaming’ something is beneath our creative brilliance, despite it potentially being more effective than a Worldwide campaign asking us to turn our lights off for the night.

I think this is why I loved Fearless Girl and Mr Parking Ticket Nerd because at the end of the day, they have understood our industry is at it’s most powerful when we’re at the creative end of business rather than the business end of creativity.



James Blunt Is Sharp …
August 1, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Cunning, Empathy, Insight

James Blunt.

Yes, his music is horrific but I have to admit, I find his self-depreciation very amusing.

Anyone who tweets, “If you thought 2016 was bad – I’m releasing an album in 2017” is alright by me.

But there’s something about him I like even more about him and that’s his openness to career highs and lows.

For a man who sold millions of records, I can’t imagine what it must feel like being the opening act to that other massively annoying songwriter, Ed Sheeran.

Sure, you could argue he’s going to be playing to massive crowds wherever he goes.

Sure, James and Ed seem to have a bromance going on, so he gets to hang with his mate.

But I know people in adland who wouldn’t take a job – even if their livelihood depended on it – if they thought it would make them look like they were taking a step backwards, so given Mr Blunt works in an industry that regards acting like a diva as acceptable, that makes him pretty special in my book, at least in terms of character.

Of course, when you have been in the army and seen incredible horror and are a multi-millionaire playing to thousands of people around the World every night – even if you’re relegated to ‘opening act’ status – I guess that career low isn’t that hard to deal with.

But hey, while I won’t listen to his songs, I will happily read his tweets.



The Truth Is Hard To Find …

Many years ago, I was in a meeting where a client was using their ‘data’ to explain why they wouldn’t be going with our idea.

At the heart of the clients issue was the fact they felt the audience we were going to engage was too niche and they wanted to go as broad as possible.

Putting aside the fact you should never have a target audience of ‘everyone’ – not to mention the fact by targeting the core of a culture, you find they pull the broader culture up with them – what we hated was the client was [incorrectly] using data to hide behind their fear.

Up steps Andy.

“Have you ever used a prostitute?”

Unsurprisingly, the client denied this strenuously.

“That’s interesting …”, said my evil ex-colleague, “… because for the oldest industry in the World, I’ve never met anyone who admitted to using them.”

Of course what he was trying to say is that what people say, isn’t always what they really think or do – especially when there is so much evidence to prove it if you’re just willing to look under some rocks – and while we didn’t win that particular argument with that particular client, it does highlight an important point that I believe is becoming even more difficult today.

It’s hard to find the truth.

I don’t mean that purely in terms of just exploring it – though that’s fucking tough – I mean it in terms of the client often being unwilling to accept it or, more specifically, admit it.

OK, so part of our job is to find a way to make that happen however sometimes – and it feels increasingly so – there’s a blinkered approach to discussing truth, where the corporately agreed narrative is more important than the facts.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this … job security, insecurity, a lack of corporate diversity – both in terms of culture, lifestyle and opinion – and an attitude where middle management believe they are only empowered to say ‘no’ … but fundamentally, we are entering a period where the biggest thing holding a brand back is their reluctance to know who, and what, their audience are really about.

Oh they know the general stuff.

How much they earn.

How much they buy.

What their family consists of.

But get to anything where you understand how this audience thinks or does stuff … and it’s more bland than a James Blunt album.

“They like spending time with their family”.

“They don’t like cleaning, but it makes them feel they’re being a good parent.”

“Safety and security are important for them”.

Nothing highlights this like the recent election results we’ve had.

Brexit.

Trump.

May.

Sure, some people saw the signs, but the vast majority – with their traditional, designed-for-convenient-answers methodologies, chose to ignore them – preferring to stick to the pre-agreed narrative. And given I heard this quote by Geoff Norcott recently noted …

“Voting conservative is like buying a James Blunt album. You know for a fact millions of people do it, but you never meet anyone who admits to it.”

… it seems things haven’t changed that much from Andy’s observation.

Though I’d argue talking about James Blunt is worse than talking about prostitues.

But then I would say that wouldn’t I.



Does Adland Know What Innovation Actually Is?

A long time ago, when I first moved to Shanghai, I wrote a post about how I felt China practiced what I called practical creativity.

Now while their has been significant improvement in the attitude towards innovation over the past 7 years – especially in terms of using technology to make life more convenient – the ‘functional’ element of creativity still exists.

Recently I saw another example of this.

Except it’s older than the stuff I used in my original post.

And it’s not true … more a story that grew into legend.

But that aside, it reinforces my point that there seems to be a major difference between the attitude of commercial creativity in the West and the commercial creativity in the East and both could do with taking a bit from each other.

Funny eh?

And while the true story behind the development of the ‘space pen’ is quite different to what is stated in this article [it was more a product of marketing than conquering the universe] the issue it raises is what adland seems to value in creativity.

Would ‘using a pencil’ be seen as successful in industry awards?

Probably not.

Even in Effies, I question if anyone would bestow anything on it other than ridicule.

But the pen might … with the right case study video attached, detailing the struggle to reinvent writing or some other headline worthy statement.

And that bothers me because commercial creativity will always start with the mind and if we ignore that in favor of the eyes and our egos, then we will be walking even further away from developing the ideas that I know we are capable of making that can fundamentally impact culture and commerce.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to try and push what is possible … but when you’re over-engineering a solution for no other reason than trying to win an award, then you should get fists in the face rather than applause.

Maybe Andy was right.

Years ago he told me the reason why judges at awards often favour scam is because it satisfies their ego to be associated with ‘ideas’ that allegedly push what is possible … even if it’s not real or effective.

Which is why most of the ‘innovation’ ideas that are awarded in advertising shows never gets to see the light of day.

Remember Peggy?

I rest my case.



A Half Brit, Half Italian Who Spent 7 Years Living In China And Now Lives In America Starts Work At An Agency That Sounds Awfully Like A German Bank …

So as you know I have left China and moved to LA.

And, given I’ve written about it, you know the reasons behind the decision.

However I am also conscious I haven’t said where I am going. OK, so I know others have said where I’m going, but I haven’t. At least on here. 

Well today is the day, because today is the day I start my new job.

Actually I should say today is the day I start my main job because I’m also doing an on-going project with a rather famous rock band [ no, it’s not Queen] however I’m super excited to announce that as of this morning, I have become partner, chief strategy officer and official ‘new boy at school’ at American agency, Deutsch.

If you are based in the US, I’m sure you’ve heard of them but if you’re not, you’ll probably know them for this

To say they’re big is an understatement.

They’re huuuuuuuuge.

Massive clients. Massive office. Massive team.

Basically it’s the classic American cliche … everything is bigger in the US.

Now I’ve got to admit, there’s an element of their scale that makes me nervous … but that’s part of the reason I am so excited to be here.

When we were deciding where to go, I was very clear I didn’t want to do something that was similar to what I’ve been doing over the last 7 years. That’s not because I haven’t loved it – I’ve loved it almost too much – but because I couldn’t see the point of leaving a company I love if I was only go to end up at another company that wanted to be like the company I’ve just left.

What Deutsch offers me is the chance to play and learn in new areas.

Sure, it’s still advertising … but there’s a few fundamental differences from what I’ve been doing for the last few years.

1. I’m going to be a partner.

I’ve got to be honest, this was very important to me. I always want to grow and be challenged and one of the things I knew would be good for me was if I was given the additional – and official – responsibility for helping run an office.

Now you may think I had that at Wieden Shanghai – and I did, kinda – however the structure of the company meant that unless I become an MD [something I don’t want to be] I would always be an invited guest, never one of the hosts.

I should point out I knew this when I joined and I was always given the opportunity to speak up and speak out, however I believe there’s a point where responsibility without authority undermines your potential and ambition and ultimately, I wanted to see if I could make a bigger difference to a company or if I’m full of shit.

2. Deutsch are much more into using tech to solve their clients business problems.

This is almost going back to the way cynic approached things and I love that. However, it is not for the reason that I am sure Northern Planner will suggest … which is that I might be able to convince a client to let me make a moped or car for them.

In all seriousness, one of the things I really liked about Deutsch was their desire to forge their own direction rather than replicate someone else’s. That sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places try and mimic Wieden without seemingly realising there’s only one W+K and they will always be the best in the World at what they do.

Deutsch’s ambitions feel more entrepreneurial and applied and I find that desire, fascinating.

3. I get to set direction for brands rather than translate someone else’s direction.

While I’ve worked around the World and represented massive regions of the globe, the reality is in most cases, I’ve been about translating someone else’s perspective on what the brand does/is. Someone who tends to work and live in America.

If I’m honest, I’ve never really found this a hindrance – especially in China, where the cultures was so different, so it was always fun to try and work out how to make things connect – but it will be nice to be at the real start of the challenge for once.

Of course there’s other reasons …

The partners are all great people who just happen to work in advertising.

I get to infect a new bunch of talented planners and hopefully make them even better than they thought they could be.

I have the opportunity to make my new team one of the most respected/hated/mischievous departments in the whole of North America. I find that idea really exciting and really infectious.

And then there’s the 2 big ones …

I get to give my family an environment that is healthy for them and we get to experience and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture. Again.

Those are worth their weight in gold … especially as we’ve found a Mandarin school for Otis so he can still feel a connection to the country he was born in and the country his father loves and will miss deeply.

[Oh, we also own and get to drive cars again for the first time in 15 years. I am embarrassingly excited about it … though driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ is interesting … especially for all the other drivers in LA]

In fact the only thing I don’t like about my new job is that I’m called the Chief Strategy Officer.

I’m not that keen on that. It feels so cold. So exclusive. So disconnected to creativity.

But I get America loves its titles so it’s a small price to pay for the adventure.

So we will see what happens.

It could all go down in flames or it could be a fantastic adventure and for me, when those are the possibilities, that makes me massively excited.

So thank you Deutsch for the incredible opportunity, let’s hope you don’t regret it …

More posts in a couple of weeks when I’ve either [1] settled in a bit or [2] been fired.