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


Careful, Your Manipulation Is Showing …

So a few weeks ago, I received this email …

As soon as I read that first line, I just switched off.

Not because I’m not interested in new business, but because it’s so obvious anyone in business is.

I also don’t like the tone …

As if they just care about my best interests.

Everything about this email pissed me off which – as introductory emails go – is the opposite effect they should have.

I get it’s hard to cold call someone.

I get it’s difficult to grab their attention.

But maybe someone should tell them the secret to making anyone care is getting them to buy rather than just trying to sell.

Or said another way, finding out what your audience need rather than selling them what you want them to want.

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Victorian England Is Alive And Well …

A few weeks ago, my family went on what we call, ‘a family adventure’.

All that consists of is getting a map, pointing to a place around a couple of hours drive away and heading there to investigate and explore.

It’s nice to discover something new all together and it’s a precious time for us.

If we go on a Sunday, we tend to stop off at a pub for a legendary ‘Sunday Roast’.

After 2 and a half decades away, I have missed them immensely and there’s something heart-warming [literally and metaphorically] shoving some chicken and roast potatoes in your gob.

To be honest, we have had quite a range of quality.

Some of it – I swear – was a microwave version of a roast, given the grey color of the food and weird temperature range.

But some of it has been exquisite … though I appreciate that means nothing from a man who wears Birkenstocks and supports Nottingham Forest.

However what I’ve found even more interesting, is the range of pubs we have gone in.

The UK pub industry is facing incredible headwinds right now.

Huge amounts of them are being closed down – either due to a lack of trade or an increase in rents – so you’d think they’d be working hard to make people feel welcome.

And a lot are.

There’s one in Hitchin where the landlady remembered us and our orders from the second time we went in. Sure, that might have something to do with the fact Otis was wearing a full-on Spiderman costume on our first visit … but it’s still impressive.

However some are quite different.

Like this one near Winchester …

Oh I get a good joke.

I appreciate on face value, it’s funny.

Except it isn’t really is it.

It’s saying ‘kids need to be quiet’.

It’s saying ‘kids need to be controlled’.

It’s saying ‘kids are not welcome’.

It wasn’t just this sign either … there were notices everywhere:

Don’t make loud noises in the garden.

Don’t runaround in the garden.

Respect the pub grounds.

Look, I get it … you want to make sure everyone can enjoy the business you’ve worked hard to build up, but maybe they need to appreciate the difference between welcome consideration and jobsworth dictators.

While social media is awash with amusing pub signs, the landlord of this establishment needs to understand there is a huge difference between celebrating the ‘benefits’ of alcohol in our harsh world and insulting customers who have kids with them.

Or said another way …

Appreciate what you find funny may not be what others find funny.

I get ‘regulars’ may find kids annoying.

I get kids make noise and run around and around.

I get parents sometimes would like a break from it all.

But if you don’t want them coming, don’t advertise yourself as a ‘family pub’ …



When Naming Strategies Aren’t A Strategy …

A brand name can make a huge difference to the success of a brand.

Don’t get me wrong, the product has to be good or none of it matters – but the brand name does have an impact on performance.

Maybe this is why I have seen so many companies talk about their ‘naming strategy’ process … even though most of them then come back and say their first stage of the process has resulted in 10,000+ names.

TEN THOUSAND!!!

What sort of strategy – a process designed to ultimately create sacrifice – delivers 10,000 options?

But I digress.

While names can evoke all manner of feelings and emotions, there is a whole host that shows the imagination of a dead badger.

I wrote about how Singapore in particular is good/bad with their ‘say what you see’ approach to naming brands, products and stores … but there is a type of brand name that drives me even more crazy than the obviousness favoured in Asia and it’s the crash-together name.

Crash Together?

Yeah … where a brand takes 2 separate words roughly associated with the category and smashes them together.

There’s a bunch of these, such as Playtex, but I saw one recently that was bottom-of-the-barrel scraping …

Pregnacare.

PREGNACARE!!!

Christ, is that really the best they could do?

I get being pregnant is both wonderful and fearful, but Pregnacare is the most clinical name you could get.

It captures none of the wonderful and just hints of the fearful.

Plus it doesn’t – in any way – explain what it actually is, which given they’ve decided to go all mechanical in name choice, seems a rather ridiciulous situation.

I get naming is hard.

I get naming isn’t the be-all and end-all of a brands success.

But if you want to be seen as some sort of friend to anyone who is pregnant – which, judging by the photo, Pregnacare do – then you might want to choose 2 words that when smashed together, don’t sound like a visit to an upmarket gynecologist.



Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

So a few weeks ago, in a Starbucks in Epping, I saw this man …

For those who don’t know who he is, it’s music icon Rod Stewart.

I appreciate his best days as a singer are over but the fact he’s 74, still has hit albums and sold out concerts and looks pretty much like he did 40 years ago, means he can look back on his life as pretty bloody successful.

There’s lots of stories about Mr Stewart.

His love life.

His happy feud/rivalry with Elton John.

His tightness.

But what isn’t talked about much is his love of his family.

I saw it when he walked into Starbucks.

In came his wife and a bunch of his kids – young and old – and they all sat together, chatting … laughing and sharing coffee and croissants.

I know this is something we see everyday, all around the World, but there was something lovely in seeing an international Rock Star act like the doting father and husband he obviously is.

I’m not denying he has made some pretty shit mistakes in the past … but without wishing to defend that … sometimes good people make bad mistakes and whatever happened in the past, at least he seems to remember what is truly important.

Nothing says this more than an interview he gave this year …

I don’t know about you, but I think this is wonderful.

It’s also weird his brothers and sisters are NINETY YEARS OLD.

But what I love most is that it is apparent for all his wealth, he feels his family is what truly makes him rich.

Even his ex-wife, Rachel Hunter, doesn’t really have a bad word to say about him.

Their divorce wasn’t because of infidelity, it was because she was young and after 13 years of him being a doting husband, she felt she wanted to go out and live more.

And even then, she – and he – made sure everything was both amicable and respectful.

The reason I’m saying this is because work/life balance is under greater pressure than ever.

Sure companies are talking about it more than ever before, but in the main, what they really mean is ‘it’s important to have a home life but make sure you do your work first’.

I also accept, it’s much easier to have work/life balance when you’re a multi, multi millionaire because when Mr Stewart was starting out, he was so in debt, his manager and record company pushed him to go out on tour so he missed a lot of his oldest kids early years.

But here’s the thing.

If we all appreciate that work/life balance is important [even if that is simply because it makes you more effective at work] and mental health has become an issue that has been accepted as a real issue, how come this isn’t included in any procurement demands from clients or agencies?

Maybe it is, but I haven’t heard about any.

I have heard of contracts that demand female representation.

And I have heard of contracts that demand people of color inclusion.

But nothing on mental health or work/life balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that issues of gender and background are being forced into contracts [but I’m so sad this is what it took to have it happen] but what about making sure these people are looked after once they are there?

Why isn’t that part of the deal?

Why is that not a key criteria of what we are all talking about?

Why is that something shareholders don’t demand of the companies they invest in?

I think we can all guess, but if you’re still not sure, head over to Corporate Gaslighting and read what some people have discovered are some of the reasons why.



When Cultural Appropriation Goes Too Far …

I’ve written about cultural appropriation before.

I’ve talked about how there is an element of it that [I think] is good for humanity, if handled the right – and respectful – way.

This isn’t one of those times …

Yes … Nanchos and a Yorkshire pudding.

Let’s say that again.

NACHOS.

YORKSHIRE PUDDING.

What sort of sick and twisted individual thought that was OK?

Even the people behind the ‘premium heated, mixed nuts’ on Delta, aren’t that insane.

I should point out I saw this at a Toby Carvery in Slough, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised … but if I thought the French selling ‘hamburger ice cream’ was an act of war, then this should be all out nuclear attack.

And no, I didn’t buy it.

I didn’t even think about it.

Which means the one bit of good news in this sorry tale, is I might be maturing – at least where bad food is concerned.



Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.



Variety Is The Spice Of Life …

I saw this person on the tube recently.

I don’t know who they are.

I accept I have no right to talk about fashion or shoes.

But a pair of brown crocs with some glittered-up stones glued to them feels the sort of things by a Blue Peter host would have come up with circa 1982.

What makes it even more confusing is they were carrying an LV bag.

And while I haven’t seen such an odd pairing since I saw Cate Blanchett and her husband, I have to say I loved it.

It was quirky.

It was individual.

It was the sort of thing that pushes ‘fashion’ and could either crash and burn or open up a new chapter of it. And given we live in a world that tends to play safely in the middle, the people on the edges are the ones we should be looking at and celebrating.

When Martin and I did our Cannes talk for Warc, we talked about ‘the edge effect’.

It’s a genuine term – associated more with nature than planning – but the point is still valid. If you want to move brands forward, play to where culture is heading not where it is and to do that, seek out the people on the edges not smack bang in the centre.

_________________________________________________

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post, I discovered these shoes weren’t the work of a children’s TV presenter, some Pritt Stick glue, some stones from the garden and a couple of tubes of glitter but a real live bloody shoe designer.

Christopher Kane to be precise.

And what’s more, they cost £325.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Suddenly my wifi cup, remote control ball and basically 99% of everything I’ve ever bought looks a wise investment in comparison.

So to Mr Kane, your career might be done but you made me feel better about myself.Ta.