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


That Was The Year That Was …

So this is it, the last post of 2019.

Congratulations, you made it.

Yes, I know it’s early given there is still a couple of weeks to go in the year – including the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off – but despite what you may all think, I’ve had a big year and quite frankly, I need a rest from here as much as you do.

When I look at 2019, it’s been pretty good.

Of course there have been a few sad events – my dear Aunt Silvana dying and Justin’s wonderful wife, Ella – but overall, things have been positive.

Even the Beijing Hotel incident was amusing.

But most of all, the fact my family are good, healthy and happy makes it a good year, especially when you think of all the changes that have happened in our lives.

For Otis in particular, he has embraced all of it like a champion and watching him have his first day at ‘proper school’ made me feel incredibly emotional and very, very proud.

Quite frankly, the fact we have managed to stay in the same country for over 12 months is something we feel like celebrating – but not as much as my bank managers is doing – and we’re super excited that we have bought our first family home, even if we’ve not yet moved into it and it meant saying goodbye to the home I spent the first 25 years of my life in.

In fact ‘settling in’ has been a great plus of 2019.

We have a house, cars, some friends and finally feel part of a community … I’ve got to be honest, it’s a lovely feeling … and while I know there will be other changes in our life at some point in the future, this is a time I’m eternally grateful for.

There’s other stuff I’m grateful for too …

Without doubt, doing the Warc talk at Cannes with Martin was a wonderful highlight.

We were quite nervous about it but it seemed to have gone down well and I will always remember it and for that, we owe a debt to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s fiancé – who told us to get on with doing our school because she was sick to death of hearing us talk about doing more things together.

Love you Mercedes! And Martin. But more Mercedes.

Another thing – which is a bit weird, but seems to have helped some people – is when I wrote my post about being bullied at work. The response was phenomenal which led to Corporate Gaslighting. And while the amount of stories people are sending in – or agreeing to have published – on there has reduced, I know it has helped some people and I am happy I did it and will continue to do it.

Then there’s the fact I’ve been able to spend a bunch of time visiting China.

I love that place. In fact I would regard it as my ‘home’, despite having left there over 2 years ago.

To be able to spend so much time there and be energized by the city while connecting to new – and old – clients, has been magnificent.

Talking of returning to old things, having Otis’ beloved Elodie visit from LA was awesome.

Seeing them fall into their old, caring friendship was wonderful.

As I have said previously, taking him away from her was one of the hardest things about leaving LA – and while I know distance makes things harder, technology has obviously allowed their friendship to continue, which is the best ad for tech I can think of.

While I understand being emotional about Otis and Elodie being back together, I was surprised how emotional I felt when I went back to LA – especially when I visited Otis’ old kindergarten – but I suppose even the shortest time living in a place, leaves its mark on you.

There’s a bunch of other stuff I’m grateful for this year …

Nottingham Forest … for actually making me start to believe again.

I know it will end in tears, but it’s a nice feeling all the same.

There there’s the Brian May Guitar I bought after only 35 years of waiting.

Seeing Rod Stewart and Concorde were nice, as was getting a comment from Queen producer, Mack, and his son on the post I wrote about Freddie Mercury going to a birthday party dressed in the outfit he wore for the ‘It’s A Hard Life’ video.

That the gods of metal, Metallica, decided to extend the project that I’m doing for them for another THREE YEARS was a major plus. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I’m doing for them or if they like what I’m doing for them, but it keeps Otis in free Metallica t-shirts, so it’s worth doing.

I also got a bunch of new people in my life that I did not know previously.

From the brilliant students at the Brixton Finishing School, to the talented – but totally bonkers – creatives of Dayoung, Mike and Sam and not forgetting the wonderful Joel, Erika, Amar, Megan, Ed and Hannah who all stupidly decided to become members of the delightfully talented gang of planners at R/GA.

Before I end this utterly boring – but important [for me] post, I just want to say thank you to 3 more people.

First is the wonderful Paula Bloodworth not only got engaged – to a man from Nottingham no less [hahahaha] but she got asked to move to Portland to run strategy for NIKE globally at Wieden.

She will be brilliant.

More than people know – and they already know she will be brilliant.

I have had – and have – the great privilege of being able to call Paula a friend. I’ve worked with her, argued with her, laughed with her and caused havoc with her and through it all, her talent and humanity has shone through.

Wieden are very lucky to have her. Nike are very lucky to have her. I am very lucky to be able to call her a friend.

Second is the brilliant Severine Bavon.

Sev has been a part of my team from the beginning and this month she leaves us to strike out on her own.

Not as a freelancer … but to start a company that offers a new model for creativity and strategy for agencies and clients.

I’ve said many times that everyone should start their own company at some point and I am incredibly thrilled and proud that she is going to do just that.

Of course I’m going to miss her.

She’s brilliant, tenacious, smart and a million things I am not.

But I believe a bosses job is to help their people go on to bigger and better things. Bigger and better things they may never have imagined. Bigger and better things where they are chosen for who they are not just what they do.

And while I don’t think I did anything specific to help Sev make this decision, I have a vested interest in watching her do her thing and cheering her as she does it.

Which she will.

Sev, thank you for everything … believe in your talent, follow your gut, burn everything down that stands in your way.

So that leaves the final person … and as usual, it’s anyone and everyone who has written or visited this blog.

Ranting. Arguing. Swearing. Complaining. Caring. Debating.

It’s all meant a lot to me and after this length of time of writing basically the same 5 posts over and over again, I don’t take it for granted that you pop by and pass on your wisdom/insults.

I hope you all have a great festive season and may 2020 be epic.

Hopefully not as epic as I hope mine will be, but epic all the same.

I’m off to Australia for some sun and warmth and I’ll see you on Jan 6th cold, miserable and wondering how the holiday season passed by so fast.

Ta-ra.



There’s Models And Then There’s Models …

I consider what I’m about to tell you an early Christmas present.

Not for you, but for me.

You see a few weeks ago, one of the creatives at R/GA was walking down the road when he was stopped in his tracks as he saw this …

Now you may be wondering what is so shocking about a back of a van featuring 2 weird looking men starring into space with a lilting triffid like plant behind them?

Well I agree with you, except those 2 weird looking men starring into space with a triffid like plant behind them are my colleagues – Eduardo and Ed.

As you can tell from the absolutely horrific photo and pose, neither knew this photo was being taken – nor did they give their permission for the image to be taken, used or plastered on the back of a corporate horticultural company van – but I am so glad it happened … and while they are trying to get some sort of response from the company who did this, I keep telling them that on the positive, they can say now say they’re models, which is a damn sight better than saying they work for a creative company in creative company cliche, Shoreditch.

Sometimes, accidents are the best thing that can happen to you.



Premium Disaster …

So before I begin with my post, I have some good news …

This will be the last post for 13 days.

THIRTEEN!

I’m in China all next week and then when I return, I’m having 3 days off – of which one of them is to celebrate Otis’ 5th birthday!

Five. Can’t believe it.

Anyway, I know I’ve just made your impending weekend more enjoyable so have fun and see you when I’m back on the 12th … though there will be a special birthday post the day before for my little one.

So now back to the post …

One of the things I hate is when a client mistakes being premium priced for meaning they have premium customers.

That just isn’t true, even more so now with the access to finance. Seriously, it’s like banks deny the 2008 crash never happened. Mind you, when you’re bailed out by the public, it didn’t.

Anyway …

Being premium priced – especially when the brand is in a mainstream marketing and comparing themself to mainstream competitors – simply means you cost more.

There may be reasons for that cost premium.

Great and valid reasons … but that doesn’t mean the audience who are buying the products are more sophisticated or educated.

If anything, it might be the opposite.

Some may be doing it to overcome their insecurities.

Some may be doing it to satisfy their delusional ego.

Some may be doing it because it represents something they’ve worked – and work – hard for and want to protect or defend or nurture.

But whatever the reason, the vast majority of people who choose these brands are, in the main, everyday people who justify the price premium because they offer something additionally appealing – be it professional, functional or emotional.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is nothing unappealing about this.

In fact, it is an amazing, given we are talking about people making decisions that cost them more because something is so important to them.

And yet so many marketers want to feel their customers are the wealthiest and most discerning of all, ignoring the fact that if that were true, then their product wouldn’t be premium priced, because for the wealthy, it would be cheap.

I recently had a meeting with someone from a mainstream, mass market brand who tried to convince me their customers were the 1%, despite all evidence proving otherwise. They also tried to claim their marketing was ‘high-brow’ as it meant only the wealthy would truly ‘grt it’.

That’s right, they were suggesting intelligence was linked to wealth.

I know a lot of people may believe that, but even if it were true – which it isn’t – they are mistaking wealth for opportunity … which I appreciate is becoming more and more influenced more by being able to afford a private education given governments are underfunding state options, ignoring the fact an educated population creates greater possibilities for the entire nation.

I digress.

Again.

Sorry, it’s just these are subjects that make me so angry and upset.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much fun I had putting them right … how much I enjoyed explaining to them that their audience were far more in line with average household income than the 1% … but at the end of the day, I know it was all in vain because every single day, I look at ads and see ‘premium priced’ brands acting like their customer base are better than everyone else, which ultimately demonstrates marketing is less about understanding your audience and more about comforting the boardroom ego.



Argos Is Christmas …

When I was younger, I discovered the ‘Argos’ catalogue.

It was at my Grandparents house and it was a bloody revelation.

For those who don’t know what Argos is, imagine Amazon.com before Amazon.

A place where you can buy a huge array of products, all of which were featured in an annual catalogue which you could take home and peruse at your leisure.

[It’s also famous for little pens – now pencils – that you would have to use to fill in the forms to get the products when you went into the store. Pens/pencils that I would say everyone in England has ended up keeping at some point in their lives]

But for me, it only had 2 uses …

1. To get a glimpse at the future of technology.

2. To choose what I really, really wanted for my birthday/christmas.

Every time I visited my grandparents, I would run to where they kept the Argos catalogue and spend hours going through all the pages, gazing lovingly at digital watches, calculators, the emergence of hand held ‘electronic’ games and – eventually – computers.

Every year the catalogue came out, I would be see the advances of tech in front of my eyes.

But more than that, for the right money – I could have it.

Of course I – nor my parents – had the right money except maybe at Christmas, but a boy could dream … and boy did I.

I still remember the excitement the first time I saw Astro Wars … a handheld version of the video game Galaxian

It was like the impossible dream.

A full sized video game shrunk into a small box.

What sort of weird wizardry was this???

I still remember how a bunch of us at school saw it at the same time and we all knew it was the ‘must have’ present for the year.

I was incredibly lucky to get it that year … and while it was a bit crap, I still utterly loved it because to me, that was cutting edge tech.

[As an aside, I just discovered it cost £28 in 1980 – the equivalent of £100 today, so I am utterly gobsmacked I got it given my parents would have had to have saved up for months to afford that. So thank you Mum and Dad, I never realized it was that pricey]

Anyway, the reason I say all this is that Argos have recently digitized all their old catalogues.

And while you may ask yourself, “why?” and “why would anyone care?” you’d be wrong … because if you’re a person of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was not a book of products available for purchase, it was a place of imagination and possibilities and while the stuff inside the late 70’s/early 80’s catalogues are full of the sort of tat even a ‘Everything for £1’ store, would turn their noses up at, looking through them all again, I can honestly say it ignited the excitement I had back then.

Truly.

And yes, that means I really have spent hours trawling through them all.

Again.

And what’s more, I don’t care how sad that makes me.

It was a magical journey down nostalgia lane.

More specifically, nostalgia that was specific to my life, not just everyone else’s.

America may have had Disneyland.

But us kids in Britain had the Argos catalogue.

You can explore the history of 40+ English imaginations, here and you can see why I think the Argos Christmas campaign – which links to the nostalgia theme of the old catalogues – is already the winner of 2019, below.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Uncommon …

A few weeks ago, I met Nils Leonard, one of the founders of Uncommon.

While I had definitely encountered his agencies work before, I had not encountered him.

I wish I hadn’t.

Not because he’s an arrogant dick.

Not because he cares more about money than creativity.

Not even because he has let all his success go to his head.

But because he’s good.

As in really good.

Not just in his talent – which is obvious – but as a person.

He’s a charming, smart, funny and – wonderfully – self depreciating.

He has built, arguably, the most exciting agency in London right now and yet the prick is still generous, open, passionate and welcoming.

I have achieved 0.2% of what he has and I’m a miserable, egotistical dick …

Hell, even my partner-in-crime, Mr Weigel, fell under Nils spell … which means he’s either a witch, a hypnotist or just one of those absolutely talented wankers who you are genuinely happy for the success they are achieving because they’re building and earning it the right way.

With the work.

That said, I’ve heard there are some in the industry who hate him.

As in really, really hate him.

I can only assume they’re jealous about what he [and Lucy and Natalie] have created and are creating and – more importantly – how they’re actually going about doing it …

I don’t blame them, I want to hate him too … and while I could focus on the fact his laugh is a bit like David Brent’s and I’m not as keen on their Guardian work as most of their other stuff [though, to be fair, it’s more the line than the work]… the fact is, there are people you meet in this life – and I’ve been fortunate to have met and worked with a few – where you realise all their achievements aren’t because they’re political, self-publisiising, manipulative, ego-driven, cold and calulated assholes, but because they’re extremely talented and hard-working in a way that means they were always destined to exist at a different altitude to the rest of us.

No wonder he called them Uncommon.

Bastard.



When Media And Messaging Go Stupid …

So I’m away tomorrow so this is the last post of the week.

I know … what an early gift eh?

Well let’s see if you still feel that way after you’ve read it.

So recently – in the Fulham Broadway tube station – I saw this …

I know, it’s an innocuous little ad.

Harmless even.

What on earth could I find wrong with it?

Well a lot really,

Let’s start with this ad being in Fulham Broadway Tube Station.

I don’t know if any of you have see that station, but it’s this:

Yes … it’s on a street.

A busy street.

A busy street with no waterway conveniently located.

At least no waterway located within a few minutes walk so you could change your choice of transportation.

Why?

Why spend money on that?

Yeah ,., I know someone will say it’s because passengers from Fulham may catch another tube in a place where a ‘Thames Clipper’ is possible, but come on, if that’s the case do it in the fucking station where that is likely to happen.

But then there’s the actual ad.

I absolutely loathe ‘best kept secret’ type messaging.

Apart from the fact it is ensuring all the customers of Thames Clipper who may actually think it is the best kept secret are now about to be inundated by new passengers stealing their seat and general calmness of commute [because yes, advertising does work] this doesn’t tell you in any way WHY it’s the best kept secret?

Is it the tranquility of the trip?

The speed of the journey?

The price? [Let me tell you, it’s definitely NOT the price]

The timetable?

The locations you can get to?

The views?

The history of the buildings on the embankment?

The seats?

TELL ME, JUST WHY THE HELL IS IT LONDON’S BEST KEPT SECRET?

There are so so many different ways they could have handled this campaign … beautiful, inventive, charismatic ways … ways that could have made someone think twice about the darkness of the tube or the traffic jamming experience of the bus … ways that would have given the Thames Clipper a personality that out charmed even TFL … but no, instead they went with a poster of an old, white male who looks like he works in the city using a quote that says absolutely nothing about the experience in places where you are literally miles from being able to engage with it even if you wanted to.

Thank God I’m not here tomorrow, because I need a lie down.