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


When Is An Orange A Lemon?

So as you read this, I’ll be on a plane to Portland …

While this is good news for you as I’ll be away the whole of the week, it’s terrible news for my friends at NIKE and Wieden+Kennedy as I’ll be poking my head in their lives and business for the next 5 days.

To help everyone either celebrate or commiserate over this news, let me leave you with a very short post.

I saw the above ad on the underground recently …

What. The. Fuck?

I get it’s a nice looking razor … I get some people may even want to buy it because it’s a nice looking razor … but what the hell is the point of that copy?

Seriously, what are they trying to achieve with it?

In advertising, there is a phrase called ‘see say’ … where the copy, or voice over, explains what’s being shown, despite the fact that in the main, the person looking at the communication can see perfectly well what it is.

I’ve never understood why it continues to happen – just like I’ve never understood why people do presentations then read exactly what’s on the screen – but this ad is taking things to a whole new level, or should I say depth.

What pains me more is that Boots originally were a Nottingham company so I feel some sort of responsibility to their actions and behaviours … even though they’re no longer English and quite frankly, my attitude is more mental than sentimental.

What next, fruit ads that have copy explaining the fruit you’re looking at what its colour is?

If our industry is about helping brands resonate with culture, our work seems to suggest we’re either saying people are stupid or brand managers are.

Good job I’m going to hippyville so I can calm down before I explode.

See you in a week … where it will only be 2 days till my birthday.

[Hint Hint]

Advertisements


The Many Faces Of Beautiful …

I’ve written how mental Gucci have been in the past few years in both their fashion and their marketing – though on this last point, it’s been quite refreshing from the up-itself-image-bollocks the fashion industry tends to perpetuate.

However I recently saw an ad for their lipstick that is making me think they’re doing more than just trying to superficially differentiate from the competition.

Yes brands like Dove have celebrated ‘real beauty’ before – though they also sold skin whitening products so you know that their intentions for female empowerment are not entirely true – but it’s rare for a high end fashion brand to do such a thing, especially in such dramatic fashion.

You see even though Dove celebrated women of all shapes and sizes, they tended to all be classically beautiful … however here is Gucci, doubling own on celebrating the beauty of the imperfect by showing what my American friends would say is a ‘British smile’.

We will have to see if they are truly going to push this agenda but in an industry so superficial they can make a puddle look like an ocean, this is a step in the right direction in helping women celebrate their own beauty, not someone else’s definition of it.



Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.



How Far We Have Come …

When I was young, I loved cars.

OK, I still do … but back then, they held a particularly strong fascination.

Freedom. Independence. Status.

Now while there are many cars that are burned into my consciousness – the Ford Fiesta XR2, the Fiat X19, the Triumph TR7 to name a few – there is one that has a special place in my heart.

Not because I wanted one, but because in my provincial mind, it represented the pinnacle of success.

It was … a Ford Granda.

Yes … that tank like thing at the top of this post.

I know … I know … how utterly shameful.

As I said, it wasn’t a car I aspired to owning or driving – besides, I was years off being allowed to drive – but it was the biggest car on the road and in my small, little mind, that meant the driver was doing one of the big jobs in life.

You have to understand that I was entering as period of my life where school life was soon going to make way for the rat race … and while I was good at school, I was crap at exams so I was looking for direction in terms of a job that could one day, potentially let me own a Ford Granada.

Jesus, I was sad.

It gets worse … because I still remember seeing a man drive a BMW 7-Series when they first came out and going up to him to ask what he did for a living as I couldn’t believe anyone in West Bridgford – my home town – could ever have a job that let them buy a car like that.

The irony was it was less about having something that would convey status and success to the outside world and more about setting a goal that would let me think I have done OK in life if I ever got to own one.

Which I didn’t .

The reason for all this is that I recently watched a video for the launch of the MK II Granada.

It’s long, but it’s worth watching for a whole host of reasons.

Part of it is because it highlights how far the car industry has evolved since 1984 interns of technology and what they regard as driver/passenger comfort and sophistication … part of it is because it’s funny to see them make big claims about small features [digital clock anyone?] … but the biggest part is how much technology we still regard as luxury is over 30+ years old.

It doesn’t make me want a Granada, but it does help me feel less foolish rating them in 1984.



When You Don’t Even Have To Try, You Should Still Try …

One of the places I find most hysterical in the World is San Francisco.

Yes … the entire place.

I find it hysterical because it’s often referred to as a liberal, hippy paradise when the reality is it’s one of the most expensive, exclusive and divisive places on earth.

Of course it wasn’t always this way, but the rise of tech has seen so much money coming into the place, that not only is everything hideously expensive, but the service industry – something America was once famous for – has seemingly given up making any effort whatsoever, safe in the knowledge they’re going to get people giving them money for stuff regardless.

No where is this attitude more prevalent than the hotel industry.

Because there are so many people coming into the place – hotels are almost always full.

What that’s resulted in, is even crappy hotels charging rates plush places in LA would balk at.

Case in point, the hotel I stayed in – The Taj – cost more for 1 night than the 2 nights I stayed at the Ritz Carlton at Marina Del Rey.

Which had a water view.

And breakfast included.

What I got at the Taj, was this …

Now I used to have Taj Hotels as a client.

I know their history and the way they approach their business.

Thanks to the Silicon Valley goldrush … the Taj San Fran doesn’t embody any of them.

In fact, I would say the only thing it’s suitable for, is a Martin Parr photo assignment.

For those who don’t know the brilliant Mr P, he is a photographer who specialises in brilliantly capturing the utterly mundane … usually in Britain.

With that in mind, I’ve written him a letter, dedicated to the experience I had at the Taj SF.

Dear Martin Parr.

If you’re looking for inspiration on what – and where – your next photo project could be, may I suggest The Taj Hotel in San Fran.

Not only does it have the depressingly bland interior design qualities of 1980’s middle England that I know you love love, but it comes with the price tag of a modern of Russian Oligarch.

Even when I came back to the room at 2:30am – after a long day at the office – I was reluctant to sleep there, for fear the rundown averageness of the place would do me irreparable damage in the night.

It is a photo exhibition waiting to happen.

Possibly your finest ever.

I even have a name for the shot … Expensive Beige.

You’re welcome.

Rob



Viagra By People Who Are Massive Dicks …

As you read this, I’ll be on a plane to America – again.

Given I’m not back till Friday – and then there’s a long-weekend in the UK for Easter – that means there won’t be any posts till Tuesday. Hopefully I will have digested all the chocolate I intend to eat by then. Not to mention have got over the excitement of having my new car – which, is exactly the same as my old car – but that’s a post for another day.

Till then, I leave you with this …

So I recently saw this ad for a viagra type product on the tube …

How horrifying is that eh?

OK, it’s not quite as bad as the Eddie viagra ad I wrote about a while back … but it’s close.

From the terrible ‘When Harry Met Sally’ reference to the racially questionable ‘erect dreadlocks’, it’s the sort of rubbish you’d expect to see in a first year ad students book.

And I’m probably being unfair to first year ad students.

But even worse than that is that it comes from a company called manual.

Maybe it’s just me, but the words ‘manual’ and ‘viagra’ seem to be polar opposites.

I don’t know why, but when I see the word manual – in the context of intercourse – I think more of masturbation than copulation … and yet that is what they decided to call their company.

Weird.

At one point I was going to say that even that wasn’t as weird as ending the body copy of the ad with the words ‘Good News, Man’ … because I initially thought it another racist slur towards the guy with the dreadlocks … however having seen a few more of their executions, I see they say this in ALL their ads, even when it features a man without long hair.

Though I note none of them show their hairstyles pointing up.

Everything about this campaign smacks of a company that doesn’t know what erectile disfunction means.

From their ads communicating the effect of the product rather than the emotional benefit for the user, through to the fact the opening line on their website is, Hard Isn’t Always Easy.

I appreciate its an ad on the tube.

I appreciate most ads on the tube are even worse.

But this overly simplistic approach to communication is not building long term business, just a short-term transaction.

Maybe that’s fine for the founders … maybe they’re in it for a good time rather than a long time … but if you think how a strong brand can command a price premium and disproportionate audience loyalty, it blows my mind how few companies seem to care about this.

Oh they will claim they will.

They’ll say all the right things about thinking for the long term.

But the reality is to do that, you have to plant seeds [excuse the pun] for the future and many of these new companies are simply in continuous harvest mode.

Maybe they’re adopting the old saying of ‘make hay while the shines’ … I just hope they realize the other side of that is ‘prepare for your demise, because it’s coming’.

Happy Easter everyone …



From The Stupid To The Tragic …

I’ve written a bunch about Starbucks over the years – most recently, their cereal coffee debacle – but let’s be honest, where ‘what the fuck’ happens, Starbucks is close behind.

Well while this example isn’t a demonstration of their marketing department being on crack, it is a demonstration of what their marketing department think of their customers.

Have a look at this.

Yes, it’s a bunch of bananas.

Amazingly, this is not the first time I’ve written about Starbucks and bananas.

Anyway, bananas are one of those fruits that are almost impossible to confuse with another.

And yet the folks at Starbucks think it is worthy of adding a sign in case they have the most stupid customer in the whole wide World.

Now, if you’re going to do that, you’d think you’d make sure they were the best looking, freshest bananas ever grown … but no … instead, they’ve curated a bunch of the most depressed looking fruit you could find.

Seriously, they couldn’t look sadder if they’d been placed in front of a television and made to watch 36 hours of Donald Trump speeches.

And then they want to charge 55 pence for one.

FIFTY FIVE PENCE.

At that price, I hope they throw in some banana flavored prozac as well.