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


Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.



Driving With The Brakes On …

When I first started working in London – just as I was starting out in this industry – I commuted about 5 hours a day.

A DAY!

To be fair, that was of my own making because the company thought I lived in London because I’d given them my aunts address when I applied and got hird.

When they eventually found out I lived with my parents in Nottingham, they were livid.

And they had every right to be.

But as they were giving me the first of my long history of written warnings, I asked the question: “would you have hired me if you knew I lived in Nottingham?” … and didn’t hear a word back.

And while I knew I deserved it, what pissed me off was that I generally was always the first person in and last out. Driving up and down the M1 in my shitty Ford Fiesta with one wing mirror and a radio that couldn’t drown out the sound of my engine. But the fact was, I was a bloody idiot and as much as they probably wouldn’t have hired me if I’d be honest with them from the start, I was fortunate not to be kicked out of an industry I still love.

Well. Most of the time.

And while I was young and having a car felt amazing … even then I knew 5 hours a day – 25 hours a week on a good week – was too much.

Winter was the worst.

Bad weather meant it could take almost double the time to get there and back and many a time I slept on a friends couch or a motorway service station, in my car under a mountain of coats and blankets I kept in the boot ‘just in case’.

My parents were not happy about it, but I think because my Dad’s brother-in-law was travelling 8 hours per day [he was head of traffic control at Gatwick airport] it somehow made them feel a bit better about it.

What’s interesting is that after that job, I vowed never to be more than 30 minutes from work.

And I wasn’t.

Until, of course, I came back to London.

Even though I was in a much better position personally and professionally than I was the last time I worked – and eventually lived there – no one drives into Central London anymore. And while I genuinely enjoyed catching the tube or the bus – helped by the fact that the stations I got on at meant I generally always got a seat – it still was a 80+ minute journey each way, each day.

Given our house was only 7 miles from work, that made my old 2+ hour journey over 120 miles, look positively effective.

And this was life for me.

Out the house before the family woke up.

Back at home as the family – or at least Otis – was going to bed.

And while we made it work and weekends were sacrosanct, the fact I was spending a minimum of 13+ hours a week going to and from work was – and is – ridiculous.

So when COVID started and we all started working from home, I was – for the first time in my life – able to have breakfasts, lunches and dinners every day with my family and I can honestly say I found it pretty confronting.

You see I loved it.

Absolutely loved it.

It was – and still is – one of the most wonderful times of my life.

And while I enjoy working, I started to question what the hell I was doing spending so much time away from them just to get to and from work.

Then R/GA did the nicest thing they could do for me.

They made me redundant.

And while there are things I could say about how they did it and why they did it, the fact is, I’ll always be grateful to them for the opportunity they gave me to come back to England, develop the team I got to work with and then – at the end – hand me my redundancy so I could rediscover and reclaim my priorities, passion and creativity.

Right now, I feel more fulfilled and excited than I have in a long time.

I’m spending more time with my family than ever before while working on a range of global projects that are some of the most creative I’ve ever been involved with.

Mad, mental stuff – from ads to products to art installations – which involve some of the most talented creative people in their field … from an icon of dance/electronic music to the most notorious developers in the gaming category and a bunch in-between.

Then, of course, I have the brilliant excitement of NZ and Colenso to look forward to, too.

It’s all simply amazing.

While I appreciate I am in an exceptionally lucky and privileged position, I can’t help thinking about this quote:

“The problem with life is we sacrifice what we really want to do with what is available right now.”

We all do it.

We might have different reasons causing it, but we all do it.

And while there are many considerations, situations and expectations that push us down these paths, I hope if anything comes out of the craziness of 2020, it’s that we think why we’re doing it rather than just blindly following it.

Because it’s only when we question our choices can we start seeing where we’re going.

And then we have a little more control. Or choice. Or even peace. We all deserve that.



The Collab. A Better Twist Than The Sixth Sense Ending …

Recently we’ve been seeing a lot of collabs between brands and artists.

I don’t mean bullshit influencer social content, but proper collaboration in terms of product creation … albeit that it often ends up being just ‘logo swapping’.

Of course that is still marketing, but it’s a bit more effort than a celebrity just fronting a TV or print campaign.

Or is it?

You see, while the people at the brand all think they’re going to become cool and rich by associating with someone influential with millions of fans, the reality is somewhat difference.

Maybe once upon a time that was always the case … and when it’s done right it can absolutely still be the case … but for a lot of the bullshit collabs we’re seeing being pimped out by certain brands [you all know the ones, especially the tech bros desperately trying to look like they’re part of youth culture even though all they are is a fucking ‘productivity tool”], they don’t understand the artist and their fans have a very different view of the ‘partnership’.

To them, the association is not an act of endorsement.

Nor does it make the brand partner cool.

And it absolutely won’t define their loyalty.

The reality is the association is nothing more than a ‘get rich quick’ scheme for the artist and their fans love them for it.

Unlike previous generations, they don’t see it as an act of selling out.

In fact it couldn’t be more opposite because they see it as an act of awesome.

Taking millions off a brand for a moment in their day.

Something that will be forgotten as soon as it’s done.

A novelty for the fans to buy but not to keep buying.

Basically, playing the corporations at their own game but they end up the real winner.

That’s success right there.

Not that most brands understand that.

Most of them still think they’re playing the artist. That money means they can get whatever they want out of them. Why wouldn’t they, brands have been using, abusing and stealing from artists for decades.

But it’s very different now.

Years ago, I was working with a very famous brand who did a collab with a very cool, up and coming rapper.

The brand were beside themselves because they thought this association was going to change their fortune forever.

On set, the artist was a bit of a nightmare – not saying or doing anything the brand wanted them to do – in fact they even used their social channels to tell their fans they weren’t doing this because they loved the brand, but because they were getting big money.

Unsurprisingly, the brand team were not very happy about that, but they reasoned that the association would still be worth it for them in terms of awareness and sales.

And maybe it was … but the real winner was the artist because their fans thought what they’d done was even more cool.

Talking shit about the very people who had hired them and still getting paid millions upon millions for a few hours work.

That’s power.

That’s influence

That’s a life goal we should all have.

So while collabs can be cool when done for the right reasons and the right ways, many brands need to understand that while – at best – they may have a boost to their short-term profits, the cool doesn’t actually rub off on them. In fact, if anything, their desperate desire to look cool to millions has just made them the laughing stock to the very millions they wanted to appeal too.

Because while they think they’re hustling the artist, the artist and their fans are hustling them.

Welcome to the new definition of power.



Lucky 13 …

So today, Rosie is 13.

THIRTEEN!!

Yes, she’s slower than she was.
And definitely more bad tempered.
But overall, she’s in pretty awesome nick for someone who was once a Singaporean street cat.

Of course, part of this wellbeing is she got the best adoption ever.

Her life, since that day we got her back in 2007 has all been first class.

Not just in terms of the life she has gets to enjoy – which has seen us do all manner of things, from building her penthouses for the home to importing her favourite snacks – but also in the fact that she has lived in 5 countries and has entered each one in pampered luxury.

Hell, I even did freelance jobs just to ensure she moved to countries in more style than any other pet could dream of.

And you know what? I don’t begrudge a second of it.

Since the moment we got her, she’s given us nothing but joy.

OK, there have been a few headaches …

When she almost strangled herself to death with an elastic toy.

When she was so dehydrated they thought she might die.

When I turned down an amazing job in New Zealand because immigration wouldn’t let us bring her due to being based in China.

And when she broke my lamp and my X-Box all at the same time and I wanted to kill her.

But overall, she has been nothing but an absolute joy … which is pretty amazing when you remember she’s a cat.

Let’s be honest, cats are assholes.

They are the masters of manipulation.

They can become the cuddliest bundle of fluff when they want something and can be the coldest fuck when they don’t.

And yet you come back for more because you want their acknowledgement … which only encourages them more.

Which is why they end up thinking they can sit wherever they want because they think everywhere is theirs.

They’re not our pets, we’re there’s … and I hope we have many more years of being her servant because while many may regard her as an animal, I see her as family.

So happy, happy birthday my dearest Rosie … and to sign off I thought I’d show you a video I made when I was running The Kennedys.

I had given everyone an assignment to ‘make a video on their smartphones about a family member and their dirty little secret’.

I could have done one about Jill.

I could have done one about Otis … even if he was months old.

But no, I did it about you. THAT’S how much I love you.



I’ve Started A Cult. Apparently …

Another day, another post about my love of China.

So a few months ago I was there for the opening of a clients latest venture.

You should all check it out because it’s a luxury fashion mall THAT LOOKS LIKE MARS!

Literally.

It was specifically designed to feel like you are on a space station on another planet.

It features everything from luna modules to robot sheep to video screens that look like skylights that show you in outer space.

It is utterly mad and yet truly amazing.

A place that is like no other I’ve seen anywhere else in the World.

But then, without wanting to sound a corporate toadie, the client is like no other I’ve met anywhere in the World … even when I was living in China, which tends to have a lot of brilliantly ambitious folks than anywhere else I’ve lived.

I have to do a post about him soon because not only is his influence on the fashion world almost unparalleled – and I am comparing him to people like Anna Wintour in that statement, let alone the heads of Gucci, Prada and countless others – but in the time I’ve worked with him, he has taught me to look at strategy in a completely new way.

Given I’ve literally been working in this discipline for more years than you care to mention, that’s pretty amazing … so I am sure you would find him pretty fascinating too.

Anyway, as part of the project, I was interviewed about what we have been doing for him and how we have worked together.

I talked about how much I love China and how much of an honour it is for me and us to be able to go there and help with a once-in-a-lifetime project. This may sound like I was a total crawler, but the fact is it’s all genuine.

We have been allowed to influence and shape at the highest level – strategically and creatively – and that’s been amazing, especially when there have been times you’ve disagreed with some of the things they wanted to do.

That’s hard for companies to hear at the best of time, but when it’s the billionaire founder of an international fashion group, that’s a whole other level of sensitivity and yet he has been nothing but open to us because he knows we’re not doing it for any other reason than wanting him to win better.

And when you’re talking about creating Mars on earth, ‘winning better’ is going to be crazy fun, whatever way you look at it.

But back to the interview.

So off we head to China for the opening.

It was packed with press and celebrities.

Billionaires mingled with paupers – errrrm, me – fashionistas rubbed shoulders with fashion disasters – errrrm, me again – so imagine their surprise when the start of the official opening included this …

Yep … that’s me.

Yep … that’s my interview.

Yep … no one understood why I was there or what I was saying.

I’d love to say I was all cool, calm and collected, but I – along with my colleagues – were pissing themselves laughing.

It was madness and awesome all at the same time.

I didn’t know whether it was like a remake of the classic 1984 Apple ad. or my attempt to be the leader of a Birkenstock cult … but it was like nothing I had experienced in my life.

Which is another reason I love this project and miss China.

Because when you are working with someone who believes anything is possible – and has the drive to make it happen – the journey is equally as much fun as the destination and I feel massively fortunate to be on it.

Even if there are people all around the World asking themselves …

“Who the fuck was that old guy in the camo Nike hoodie?”