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


If Your Brand Voice Is Your Weapon …

… then many brands are killing themselves with theirs.

I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m shocked how few brands really understand ‘tone’.

They either confuse it with a template look or using a corporate monotone full of buzzwords.

Brand voice is not a look.

It’s not even a tone.

It’s the expression of your individual values and beliefs, communicated in a way that resonates with the culture around your category.

Of course NIKE is probably the best example of this.

Regardless what they do.

Regardless what sport they’re talking about.

Regardless how an execution looks.

The moment you see or hear it, you feel it.

And ‘feel’ is the key word here.

That is no accident.

In fact, I’d say we often spent more time on the voice than the strategy.

They know the athlete so well that it is reflected in all they do.

And maybe that’s the problem so many brands face, because they don’t know their audience very well.

They define them in broad, ambiguous ways that are convenient for the brand to embrace.

It’s either that or the fact many brands seem to have values and beliefs that are designed to not alienate any potential customer … without realising they don’t resonate with anyone either.

There’s only one thing worse than a brand patronising it’s audience and that’s one that doesn’t even realise they’re doing it which is why brand voice – or tone – isn’t something you get by just scribbling some random words on a creative brief, it’s a commitment to finding it and then doing it right because to paraphrase Dan Wieden, great brands don’t discover the power of advertising, they discover the power of their own voice.



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.



Why Differences Are Brilliant …

One of the things I absolutely love is when you hear a perspective on something that you never thought about.

Something that makes you stop and reconsider what you thought you know.

Not that it means your original perspective was wrong – as I’ve said before, there’s rarely a really wrong answer, just lots of degrees of right – but you just feel your eyes have been opened to something that you thought had no way of surprising you.

It’s like a revelation to me.

The reason I say this is because it happened when I read this interview with a bouncer …

Now maybe you’re thinking his statement was massively obvious, but I never looked at bouncers that way.

To me, they were there to stop trouble and maintain order.

Oh … and to look menacing.

[Except my best friend Paul is sometimes one and he is the opposite of menacing]

However, after reading “If you’re too drunk you’re not going to buy any drink”, I now realise their actions are as much about securing the profitability of the business as it is securing the reputation and environment of the premises.

In essence, they’re more than bouncers, they’re business managers.

Now of course, you could say this is a classic case of ‘reframing’, and maybe it is … but in my experience, it only works when it is born from a truth that people can immediately relate too, so even if that is the case, it’s still better than 95% of the stuff our industry has done.



What – And Who – Are Trust Exercises Really For?

Years and years ago, I worked temporarily for a small company in Australia.

I hated it but I needed the money so each and every day I went there to destroy my soul.

I was not the only one.

So one day, this company announced they’d hired some specialists to help build trust between us all. The irony was there was already a lot of trust between us, it was the management we thought were dodgy bastards.

So off we go to some hotel where we are subjected to all manner of inane and condescending bullshit, when one of my colleagues announced …

“For this to work, we have to trust your bosses aren’t stupid and you’ve failed in achieving that”.

Within 2 seconds, pandaemonium happened and for all intents and purposes, we rebelled and all went to a coffee shop.

Of course management weren’t happy and a few people were fired and a lot of people were given written warnings – and while I am a big believer teams being built on trusting each other to help each other – that comes from the everyday environment, not some totally unrealistic experience in some nondescript hotel room outside of an industrial estate.

Half of the time the reason for doing it is simply for the management to say ‘they’ve spent money on training’ … which is VERY different from actually training … but none of this matters, because the only reason I’m telling this story is so I can justify showing this clip.



Waving Goodbye To Singapore’s Most Dangerous Weapon …
October 28, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Culture, Experience, Management, Planners, Planning, Ros, Wieden+Kennedy

So today is a happy/sad day for me because I wave goodbye to my wonderful colleague Ros.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Ros for the last 2 years and I can honestly say, every day has been memorable.

OK, so part of the reason for that is that apart from being very talented and passionate, she is one of the most inappropriate people I’ve ever met … and let’s face it, I know a hell of a lot of inappropriate people.

Even more shocking is she is from the land of ‘nice’ … Singapore. What the fuck?!

And yet, despite her incredibly tasteless jokes, her excellent range of swearing and her ability to start a client presentation with the words, “don’t judge us before you’ve heard us” … she is a fantastic human being and a wonderful planner who everyone – even the clients she [cheekily] berates – love.

I’ve adored every moment I’ve either worked with Ros or watched Ros in action and nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing her continue her exploration of what she is capable of doing and being. Even more so that she’s taking her fiancé – and Wieden colleague – Hiro with her.

[The man I saw her sheepishly walk out from behind a bush on Wieden’s rooftop garden with]

So to 72&Sunny Amsterdam, look after her … and by that I mean don’t turn her into a happy, positive person because apart from the fact that would mean you’re into ’brain washing’, it would also mean you’re stopping her be as brilliant as she can be.

Thank you for everything Ros, I’m super proud and excited for you.



You’re Either In Control Or Being Controlled …

Many of you may have already read this, but a while back, Politico magazine wrote a long – but fascinating – article about the moment George W Bush heard about 9/11.

What makes it especially interesting is they talk to people who were with him that day … from his Chief Of Staff, to his security detail to journalists to the pilots of Air Force One and the F-16’s sent to further protect the plan.

It is an amazing insight into one of modern histories most defining moments as well as being a wonderful lesson in how to give direction to chaos rather than letting chaos direct you.

You can read it here.



It’s Like He Was Talking About The Ad Industry. Or Pundits On China …
July 25, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Craft, Management

The older I get the more I realise that life is a battle between holding on to the things you believe in and allowing yourself be engaged and entertained by the things that challenge all you believe.

My Mum was particularly good at this …

She had an incredible ability to stay open minded to all that surrounded her … ensuring as she went forward in life, she was never left behind but also never walked away from things that time, experience and consideration had taught her were of real value.

But here’s the thing …

She never went along with what was happening simply because it was happening, she invested time in it to make sure she knew what it was, why it was happening and what it would mean for her.

I say this because I feel the ad industry has for years, chased after the newest new thing to appear relevant, without ever actually considering what to do with it to make it work for them.

In essence, it’s relevance by association.

Or worse, it’s about stealing from culture rather than adding to it.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve read a piece from someone in adland proclaiming they are geniuses when all they’ve actually done is repurpose something that has been in existence for years.

The irony of adland is that we talk about the future but we hold doggedly to the past.

Some of this is not entirely our fault – there is the small fact that the remuneration structure many clients insist on, is designed to keep things the same rather than drive innovation in thinking, technique and approach – but at it’s heart, many of the problems we face are problems we actively helped create, which is why unless we are willing to break the cycle, the only winner in this whole sorry situation will be Alvin Toffler’s credibility.

It’s up to us.