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


Is Innovation The Fast Track To Corporate Fucking Stupidity?

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about how so many of the great ideas I’ve seen have come from the minds of designers rather than adfolk.

Where so many in my industry look to create eye-candy, designers are approaching their task in terms of solving the clients fundamental problem in the best and most visually interesting way.

There’s a lesson for many of us to learn in that.

However it’s not all great for designers.

Like that Pepsi bullshit from years back, there’s still examples where designers are taking the piss more than a catheter.

For the latest example, may I present to you Vodafone.

Whether we like them or not, our lives are very dependent on the telecommunications industry.

Sure, we might not use their service to make phonecalls anymore, but our smartphone addiction means we need their data so we can instragram our food at every possible moment.

Now obviously the telco industry doesn’t like being seen as just a ‘service provider’.

Part of that might be because of corporate ego, but the main reason is likely to be that for them to grow, they need to be regarded as an innovation company … someone who creates the future as much as serves it.

Whether you think that’s bollocks or not is up to you, but the reason I’m saying it is because that’s kind of the explanation Vodafone used for creating their new logo.

“What new logo?” I hear you cry.

This one …

“No Rob …” you reply, “… you’ve made a mistake, that’s the old logo”.

Oh no it isn’t folks, that’s the new one.

No seriously.

I swear to God.

Oh hang on, I don’t believe in God … OK, I swear on my heart.

Still don’t believe me?

OK, if you want absolute proof, here’s the old logo for comparison.

“But … but isn’t that basically the old logo just with the colours inverted?”, you stutter.

Well, I would agree with that assessment however we would both be wrong because apparently it is a new logo and, when you hear how the people at Vodafone describe it, it represents a new dawn for the company and it’s role and goal in society.

Here’s Ben Macintosh, Vodafone Australia’s customer business director …

“The changes represent the company’s ability to ‘innovate for the future ‘and supply choice for customers. The wants and needs of our customers have changed, and with that we’ve changed too. We challenge the status quo and push the boundaries to give people something that they won’t find anywhere else.”

I swear to god this is not an April Fool.

This really is their new logo and Ben Macintosh really did say that.

Look, I get Apple generated billions in extra revenue by simply adding a small ‘s’ to their otherwise near-identical product but this is a whole different scale of idiocy.

For me, there’s only 2 possible scenarios …

Either the branding company [which, let’s be honest, is not a design company] are fucking delusional or Vodafone is.

Whatever the truth, if I was a shareholder in the former I’d be buying more shares in them for their ability to charge millions for taking 10 minutes to literally invert the colours of their clients existing logos and if the latter, I’d be selling my shares as fast as I could possibly get rid of the worthless bastards.

On the bright side, I’m about to make a fortune as a branding consultant and my 1997 copy of Microsoft Paint.

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Is This A Subliminal Message Regarding HR Departments?
October 31, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Human Goodness, Management

My mate recently sent me this photo from Australia.

Given how I once was in a meeting where someone asked the then CEO of Y&R whether HR stood for Human Remains, maybe this company is of the same view.

That, or it could be because many people are so frustrated with their HR departments protecting the management team rather than the people, they end up going to the loo and crying their eyes out.

I’m fortunate I’ve worked/work with some genuinely good HR people in my time, but in my experience, they’re still the exception rather than the rule.

And for the record, it’s no coincidence I’ve written about this subject on Halloween.

You might be going out tonight dressed as witches and skeletons, but if you really want to be scary, you should think about dressing up as your company HR representative.



Don’t Be Like Them …

One of the problems I have with adland is their belief that they must resemble the client.

Not just in terms of the client’s business, but in how they speak, dress and act.

They’re wrong.

The whole point of an agency is to be objective.

Of course to do that means you have to know the business.

Have to know the agendas and goals of the individuals and the company as a whole.

And have to know the competitive and social landscape.

But our skill – beyond making work that captures the imagination that makes the business work – is to see the World differently to our clients while being totally aligned to the goals we’re all working towards is.

I’m hearing more and more companies forgetting this.

I’m hearing of more and more situations where people are being evaluated less on the work they do and more on how they present themselves.

Literally.

I cannot tell you how angry and upset this makes me.

Putting aside the fact that people should be allowed to be themselves – especially in the creative industry – the fact is, if you only have people who think like you and agree with you, then you end up in a situation where your value is basically diminished and the role of the agency is nothing more than simply an extension of the marketing department.

Contrary to what you think, this is not my attempt to justify how I dress.

I know I have a ‘unique’ approach to fashion, but it’s not because I want to be noticed, it’s because I have a ‘unique’ approach to fashion.

It’s who I am.

It means I am comfortable in my own skin.

It means I will be utterly honest to my clients and colleagues.

That doesn’t mean I’m always right, but it does mean I’ll always be honest.

It also means my clients are judging me on the work I do, not the clothes I wear.

Which is exactly as it should be.

Sure, first impressions count but in my experience, good clients place far more value on first interactions because they understand they’ll never get anywhere great if all they do is surround themselves with people who think, act and see things the same as them.

As one of my old senior Nike clients once said to me …

“Middle management don’t like to be challenged because they want to keep things the same. Senior management want to be challenged because they want to keep things improving”. 

Of course not everyone acts or thinks like that – and often there are reasons for it that are due more to company culture than individual beliefs – but in his particular case, if we weren’t pushing or challenging his beliefs or ideas then he would question why we were there, which is why he was one of the best clients I ever worked with and learnt from. 



Where You End Up Is Never Just Because Of One Journey …
September 19, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Confidence, Culture, Emotion, Empathy, Management

A long time ago I wrote about how I had contacted everyone who I felt had positively influenced my career.

I called them ‘pivotal people’.

I wanted to thank them for their help and let them know that I believe anything I achieve is because of them – even if they had only been in my life for a short time.

I’ve got to admit I don’t know why I did it, but it felt right even if it ended up confusing most of the recipients.

The reason I’m writing this is because I recently read a fantastic article about the Chairman of Huddersfield Town football club.

Now Chairman of Football Clubs are rarely praised – especially in national newspapers – but Dean Hoyle is not your average Football Chairman.

When your team get into the Premiership for the first time in their existence, most Chairman would probably sit back and bask in the glow of adoration, but not Dean.

First of all he honoured a promise he made to the clubs diehard fans that if they kept buying season tickets during his tenure, he would only charge them £100 if they got to the Premiership.

Now you might think he only said that because he never thought it would happen, but not only did he keep his promise [and for reference, the cheapest season ticket available for any club in the Premiership is £299] by offering that deal, he ensured he built a dialogue with the diehard fans … the ones who genuinely bleed for the club.

But he did something more than that.

He did this:

For the record, Wagner is the current manager who helped the team get to the Premiership, but Mick Buxton – the man the Chairman called to thank – was the manager of Huddersfield at the end of the 1978-79 season, when they were in the old 4th division.

Buxton guided Huddersfield to the third tier with a swashbuckling style that captured the imagination of the 12 year old Dean Hoyle who years later, used some of his riches from selling his greetings card business to buy his boyhood club.

What Dean did is not just an act of wonderfulness – delivered with typical Northern wit – it’s the acknowledgement that the places we go in life can be influenced by many things and being aware of that not only means you may have a more adventurous life, but become a better leader.

Dean Hoyle, thank you for being ace. May Huddersfield continue to prove the doubters wrong.

Read the whole article here.



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.