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


As Bad As Monday Morning May Be, At Least You’re Not As Bad As This …

Yes, that’s me.

It’s not totally random because a few weeks ago, the planning department at R/GA held an impromptu Elton John party.

Though I’m not quite sure why we did it to be honest.

Anyway, we went to town with it …

Elton glasses … Elton inspired drinks … Elton boa’s … Elton masks … even an Elton John impersonator.

I’m not sure which was my favourite part of fake Elton’s performance.

On one hand, it was pretty hilarious when he loudly announced through the PA system “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Elton John to the stage” and then we saw the post room door [which was doubling as his dressing room] rattling madly as he tried to get out without realizing he had to press the unlock button.

Though – all things considered – I probably prefer the moment he ran out of Elton John songs and decided to start singing The Proclaimers. [See the video below]

But back to that photo …

While you might think the sight of me on a stepladder wearing an Elton John mask is the worst thing you can imagine, let me remind you of the time I wore a mask of the Queen for my first ever photo with my son.

See, nowhere near as bad.

That said, I acknowledge it is pretty tragic which means – in comparison – your Monday is far less horrific.

You’re welcome.

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Mischief Makers …

So last month, it was my birthday.

Because it was my first birthday in the UK for 25 years – not to mention R/GA – I decided to do something a bit special [read: daft] that culminated in me sending this all office email the day before my big day.

Yes, I really did buy that many Monster Munch and so while I thought I was going to have the last laugh on my birthday, my wonderful team decided to trump me by making me this cake.

What you are looking at is a Strawberry Jam Sandwich cake.

Literally layers and layers of jam sandwiches.

Despite having the sugar content that could bring all dinosaurs at once – it was strangely tasty – though I did only manage a slither, which the pricks took great delight in videoing.

And yet this act of evil genius was very moving to me.

While some might think I’m mad because what they did was an act of hatred – an attempt at murder – I see it differently.

Maybe it’s because in addition to the cake, I was given a bunch of cards and presents [Highlights include: Erika’s 1.25 liter of Diet Coke, Severine’s ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ bell, Ed and Rob’s test pressing of their new album and the teams ‘complaint letter’ to HR all about me ] … but even without any of those things, their act of birthday evil [or, as one person called it, the presentation of a white trash cake] was, for me, a demonstration of giving a shit which left me feeling very touched.

I’ve been super fortunate with the teams I’ve worked with.

Almost universally, they have been a bunch of brilliant people blessed with exceptional talent.

OK, not all of them … but overall, they’ve all been amazing even though they have also been mischievous shits. Which is why one day – and I appreciate no one would ever want this to actually happen – I’d love to have a party where everyone who has had the misfortune to work with me, comes along.

Not so they can compare war stories – though there would be a lot of those – but because in the main, they have made me a better person for the experience and I would want to thank them.

Even for Jam Sandwich birthday cakes.

Jesus, who am I?!!!



Why Purpose Marketing And Planners Need To Be Stopped …

Purpose.

Planning.

Both have had a lot of debate about them in the past few years and both have their cheerleaders and detractors.

The reality is they both have incredible value but – and it’s a big but – only when used responsibly.

Of course, what ‘responsibly’ is, is often in the eye of the brand owner and that’s where the problems starts … because too often, the focus is appealing to the ego of the company directors rather than the pulse of culture which is why we’re seeing more and more ‘purpose work’ that communicates in the corporate monotone of egotistical, bland, business-speak.

The client doesn’t think that of course, they think they’re doing an amazing thing and that people will really believe Hard Rock Cafe’s want to stop hunger or a plastic lighter company in HK wants to save the rainforest [which is true, but I can’t find the post about it, mainly because it was back in 2010] or – hold on to your hats – this …

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Yes, that really is an umbrella company claiming their purpose is to offer lifestyle solution and protection for the public.

Are they insane?

Even if that was true – which if it is, means they’re bonkers – then the way they’ve written it means the umbrellas are to save you from marketing bullshit raining down on your head.

Purpose has a really important role for brands … but you don’t just ‘make it up’.

I am utterly in shock how many companies sell ‘purpose’ to brands and yet never investigate the soul of the brand.

Go into the vaults.

Look inside every single box.

Discover what made them make their decisions.

Understand the values they lived by and fought for.

Talk to the people who have worked there or shopped there since the earliest of days.

Basically discover their authenticity rather than what they wish their authenticity was.

And yet a lot of companies are paying a lot of other companies to literally make up a bullshit story about them.

Something they think makes them sound good.

Something they think will make people want to choose them.

And while we are definitely seeing more and more people choosing to associate with brands that live by a set of values and beliefs, the thing the brands who ‘invent a purpose’ fail to understand is that this audience seeks truth, not bullshit and so what they’re doing with their make-believe is actually achieve the absolute opposite of what they were trying to do.

Purpose matters.

Planning matters.

But the moment you let ego drive your ambitions rather than your authenticity, you end up being a brand that is flying extremely high on the Planning Purpose Twatosphere.

Remember brands, by being yourself you will be different.

Stop inventing bullshit and start acting your truth in interesting ways.



Appetite For Destruction … The Advertising Edition

So I had a lovely time in Spain and now I’m ready to go hit Cannes.

I haven’t been there for over 12 years and I have to be honest, I’ve been very very OK with that.

While I have always enjoyed the talks they have, the other stuff has driven me nuts.

Pretending to be rockstars. Acting like animals. Just demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness.

Of course not everyone is like that and it’s always nice to catch up with old friends from around the World, but in my experience, I saw far too many people who were cliches of the industry so I am hoping with all my heart that has disappeared in my time away.

What I am looking forward to is the presentation we are giving on behalf of WARC.

As you know, the wonderful Mr Weigel and I started a planning school about a year ago.

While not a huge amount has happened, it is happening and the lovely/stupid [delete as appropriate] people at WARC invited us to give a talk about dangerous strategy.

To be honest, it’s quite a big subject to cover in 45 minutes so we’re going to focus on why every strategy needs more chaos in it.

Within this subject there will be all manner of unpacking. From the need to spend time in the real world, to the ridiculousness of what brand owners think passes for insight to why being interesting is literally the new right.

I hope it will be enjoyable for the people attending – I know Martin won’t disappoint – but it’s a great honour for me to be doing a project with probably the best planner in the biz right now … at the most prestigious event in the ad calendar …. with an organization dedicated to helping make smarter work rather than just smarter decks.

Then again, if they all agreed to be publicly associated with me, maybe they’re not as smart as we all think they are.

That, or Martin is doing it to use me as the physical manifestation of chaos.

Devious sod.

Come and say hi if you’re there or avoid me like the plague.

Back posting rubbish on Friday.



Chapters Help Us Move Forward. Books Change Our Direction.

I left Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai 2 years ago this month.

I have very special memories of my time there and these two people – Leon and Carina [both circled in the photo above, which was a gift from my planning team when I left W+K, even though they forgot to put Debi in there] – played a big part in that.

Sure they were pains in the ass and opinionated as all fuck [though Carina did it in a much nicer way than Leon ever could] but it was – and still is – an honour to be able to say they were on “our team”.

Now – by pure coincidence – they’re both moving onto their next adventure and that will mean there will be no more of my mob infecting the place [though I did find Chris, even if he got away with never having to work with me] so I just want to say thank you to them for all they did for me, the team and – most importantly – the work.

Their loss is a big one for everyone but no one could be anything but excited and happy for the bigger and better things they’re about to do.

So to Leon and Carina, go have a shitload of fun … but please make sure you hide stickers throughout the office before you leave.



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.



The Most Selfish Generation In History …

Hello … I’m back.

It was amazing.

OK, it was more for being with the family than the physical place … but that’s because I’m not a ‘stay-down-on-the-farm’ kind of person, though I appreciate some of you may suggest it’s more because I’m not a ‘pay-for-my-own-holidays’ kind of person.

Pah.

Anyway, I wanted to return with a post that matters a lot to me.

To be honest, all of them matter to me … but as of late, I’ve been writing stuff that matters more than most.

Things like female leadership, prejudice and when work tries to kill you

Well, while this isn’t connected to the industry I work in, it is about an issue very dear to me.

Living overseas is one of the greatest privileges you can have.

Sure, there are things you give up and miss – but what you gain more than compensates for it.

Case in point. I recently had dinner with Rodi and David in San Francisco.

The photo from the evening is at the top of this post.

None of us live here. None of us work here. None of us are from here.

In fact all of us live in totally different countries and come from different parts of the world.

Rodi is Australian/Ukrainian, David is Taiwanese and I’m British/Italian.

To make matters even more random, we all met in China.

Yet despite having all moved on from our time at Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, we remain connected … not because of the company we worked at, but because of the generosity of the country we experienced.

This dinner represents what England has voted entire generations never to have.

It’s an act of utter selfishness.

Utter, utter selfishness.

So many in society like to bestow that label on the youth of the UK, but it’s not them.

It’s the Daily Mail reading, over 55’s who have enjoyed good fortune in their life but don’t want anyone else to have it. Who don’t want anyone else to evolve and grow because they don’t want to be left behind and feel less important.

Selfish, egotistical, bigoted and blinkered pricks.

The reality is my ability to live around the World has made my life unquestionably bigger, better and fuller.

Almost everything I have and treasure is because of my life outside of England.

That is not in any way meant to say life in England is bad – far from it – but anyone who thinks there is greater value staying isolated versus expanding the possibilities of life through adventures, experiences and friends that exist beyond the borders of our shores has either never done it or is frightened of it.

May I have dinners with friends in countries none of us come from for many years to come.