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

Identity Is Defined By Us Or Defined By Others …

So finally we have the feedback on the latest APSOTW assignment.

First of all I owe everyone an apology.

This has taken way longer than it was supposed to.

I’d like to blame the time it took to get the judges feedback, but I can’t … because it was all down to me.

Of course I can point you to moving to a new country, finding a new house and starting a new job, but that’s still pretty pathetic even though it’s true.

So this submission got the most that I think we have ever had.

This is brilliant and I’m so glad so many people decided to have a go.

Of course, part of that is because it seemed relatively simple, but as you’ll read from the feedback below – you’ll soon learn it wasn’t.

But that aside, the fact you had a go is something to be celebrated.

It means you wanted to get better … put yourself out there … try something that makes you vulnerable and for that I say a huge congratulations.

I meet too many people who think that because they have a job, they have ‘graduated’.

The thing is, this job is one that is always developing because people are changing … so actively wanting to improve is something that should be celebrated and for that I – and all the judges – applaud you.

So as we had so, so many entries, we are going to find it almost impossible to write a review on every one. If you want specific feedback on your submission, drop me an email [on the same address as the assignment submission] and I’ll get back to you.

[Promise it will be quicker than this feedback has taken]

As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of people thought this was an easy task … the reality is it wasn’t.

In fact, in some regards, I would say this was one of the toughest assignments we had set over the 10+ years APSOTW has been going.

In truth, post-rationalising is always a very difficult – if not impossible – task.

We tend to focus on the obvious elements when in truth, so much of the work we make is shaped by smaller little tweaks.

Not only that, but narrowing an issue as complex as this into a single sentence is always going to be super hard … so hard, that some of you went over the limit.

But the really interesting about this assignment is how many people basically wrote a headline for the campaign rather than an insight that could allow other work to be developed from it.

For example there were a lot of submissions that talked about ‘mirrors’.

Now I get why – because the execution focuses on that – but this wasn’t about mirrors or reflections, it was about identity and how you define yourself or let others define you.

In essence, you let the execution get in the way of your point of view.

Overall, the submissions tended to fall into one of four different groups:

1 A headline that summed up the execution. Not the idea behind the execution. The execution.

2 A fortune cookie/pseudo Confucius-style statement about being a man. Any man. Or skin.

3 A smart – but generalist – insight how men define themselves in the World today.

4 An overly complex description of how culture is formed which just felt like an attempt to show how smart you were.

Now don’t get despondent with that list of crimes, I see highly paid planners do it all the time.

The irony is our job is to make the complex simple, not make things even more difficult and yet time and time again the discipline tends to forget this.

If you want proof, just read 90% of effectiveness award submissions where the ‘insight’ is about half a page long.


But back to this …

When looking through the submissions, the judges agreed that to catch our eye, an entry had to have 3 things.

+ Recognition of the cultural tension underpinning the campaign. [This is about black culture, a lot of the statements could have been about anyone coming of age, so to speak]

+ A clear and concise point of view that makes us look at the potential of the idea in a bigger – or different – way.

+ The ability to provoke a reaction … whether that would be with creatives, clients or culture as a whole.

Sadly, we didn’t find that many that did, however there were some that caught our eye.

Divyanshu Bhadoria:
“More than a grooming regimen, shaving is a ritual to preserve the story of our identity”.

Wayne Green: :
“Don’t let a beard hide your pride of who you are and where you are from”.

Andy Wilson:
“Shaving reveals the dignity that is embedded in your skin”.

If truth be told, they could all probably be sharper … but not only did they all capture the tension between identity and conformity and the role shaving has in it, they were favoured by the creative judges as points of view that made them excited about looking at a category in a new way, but a true way.

And that was the point of the task … to take something and capture it’s essence in a way that would provoke a tighter – yet bigger – idea to come to the fore.

It’s tough … it’s very fucking tough … and as I said in the assignment, it’s all pretty subjective, but the judges were weirdly pretty much all in alignment from the beginning, which is why we got to our decision.

So a huge thank you to everyone for taking part.

I hope, after reading the feedback, if you look back at your entry you will see where you could have improved it.

As I said, if you want specific feedback on your entry, send me a mail and if Wayne, Andy and Divyanshu could send me their addresses, I’ll be sending a small prize to you as acknowledgement of your work.

Hopefully this has been a fun and useful exercise. Whatever the feedback, the fact you did it is important … to you, to us and to the industry at large … so I hope you will continue when the next APSOTW assignment comes out early in the new year.

A special thanks to the wonderful Maya Thompson who brought this assignment to me and changed the way I will look at the world forever [in collaboration with her collective of Chelsea and Bree] and a big happy holidays/new year etc etc to all of you who took part. [God, that feels weird to write in only November]

Till next time …


Statements That Stick …

One of the things I love is building a planning team who is like a gang.

A bunch of intelligent misfits who all have unique ways of looking at the World but share a common philosophy in terms of what we want to do, change and impact.

I don’t care how people approach their challenges, I don’t mind if people aren’t the best of friends … but it’s important we have each others back and are open to offering opinion, advice and help if needed, even if individually, there is a healthy level of competition to do the best work of the team.

Of course, this is easier to achieve the longer you stay in a company as you can truly stamp your personality on the department but it’s not totally necessary … you just have to be clear in your beliefs, consistent in your actions and lead by example.

Now whether I’ve achieved any of this is something you’d ultimately have to ask the brilliant people who have worked with me at my previous agencies, but as I’ve started a new job at R/GA, I wanted to rally the team around a set of beliefs and language that can start unifying us more closely so I decided to make us all a set of stickers.

Yes, stickers.

I know … R/GA is an agency that wants to make the future … but apart from the fact we’re about creating stuff that comes from culture rather than ignores them, I have a new laptop that needs ‘customising’ so I thought stickers would be a perfect way to kill 2 birds with one stone.

With that in mind, each member of the team has received a set of the stickers above.

17 stickers that convey our philosophy on such matters as what we believe, how we work and what we want to do.

Some are obvious, some are maybe a bit more esoteric … but even if people absolutely hate them, at least I can say I’ve made something that truly has stuck – even if that is literal rather than philosophical – which, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes a pleasant change.

If Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery, Is Duplication The Equivalent Of A Marriage Proposal?

So today was supposed to be the APSOTW results, but I’m still waiting on one more bit of feedback. I really, really hope that will come in soon so we can put everything out next week.


Fortunately, I can fill this post with something else …

Not as good – or as wanted – as the APSOTW feedback, but pretty mind blowing all the same.

When I lived in China, there was an unspoken rule that if a company did something successful, there would be hundreds of copycats in the blink of an eye.

I wrote about this a bunch of times with possible this one being the finest example of it.

Well, while it hasn’t happened quickly and it’s only been copied once, it has come to my attention that a planner in China has paid me the ultimate compliment by blatantly copying my old blog header [designed by Jill] for their own thing … including the name of it.

Take a look at this …

I suppose I should be offended but I think it’s bloody fantastic … though I do worry about the ramifications for this persons career.

Not because someone who is paid to have original thought has shown they would rather steal, but because to openly and publicly associate with Queen, Birkenstock, Nottingham Forest and me is basically ruinous.

This is not the reason why I haven’t mentioned their name in this post – though if you work in advertising in Shanghai, you might recognize this senior positioned, big named agency planner by her face – it’s because their posts are way better than mine [even they draw the line at copying them] and I don’t want to lose the last 3 people on here who come along to insult me.

Happy At Home …

So it’s 2 months since we’ve been back in England and I have to say it’s been great.

Sure, the weather isn’t like LA.

Sure, finding a home and unpacking was a pain-in-the arse.

Sure, catching the tube is not like driving my beloved Audi to work.

Sure, I’m shocked at how bad the service is in restaurants and how many people smoke.

But all that aside, things are great.

There’s a bunch of reasons for that …

The first is my family are all together and well. Even Rosie, the moaning cat.

Seeing how brilliant Otis has adapted to his new environment [again] is inspiring, even though it has highlighted how much of an American twang he picked up in our time in the US.

To move home is a traumatic experience for anyone.

To move countries is often too much for people to even contemplate.

So to have moved home and country, 3 times when you’re only 3 years of age – and still be happy, positive and curious – is an incredible achievement and one that makes me even prouder of my wonderful little boy.

That said, we’re very mindful he is still trying to find where he belongs … find other kids he can form a connection with … so our job in these early months is to help him feel as settled and secure as we can, but so far, he’s handling it far better than we could ever hope, even though he did exactly the same when we landed in LA after Shanghai.

What a kid.

Another reason we’re enjoying things in England is that there’s an incredible familiarity to how things work.

Sure I’ve not lived here for 24 years and Jill is Australian … but we both have spent a huge amount of time here over the years so there’s a comfort in knowing how to make things happen. It’s allowed us to acclimatise to the new environment far quicker than we have in other nations while still feeling the buzz of excitement of being somewhere new.

Sure, there’s nervousness about some things we’ve never/rarely had to deal with before.

The school system and how insane that is here.

The inability to be confident a tradesman will turn up as promised.

The high price of public transport [which is still low, but comparatively high to say, China]

But all that is offset with the incredible culture that surrounds us, the friendliness of the people we’ve met and just being in a place where we can see ourselves for a good length of time.

Oh, and chips, mushy peas and gravy.

God, that’s magic right there.

But one other thing that has made things so great is work.

I’m really enjoying myself.

I have an incredible team full of smarts and opinions.

I have a huge array of colleagues full of creativity and provocation.

I have a bunch of clients full of fascinating challenges and ambitions.

I’m learning.

I’m being challenged.

I’m [hopefully] contributing.

There were a bunch of reasons why we moved countries – both personal and professional – and while no place will ever be perfect, I’m pretty shocked at how much I am enjoying being back in England given I never thought I’d ever move back.

I still wish I could nip up to Nottingham to see Mum and Dad.

I still wish Paul and Shelly lived down the street not 2 hours away.

But as much as I’ll always be a cynical bastard, I’m pretty happy right now and I’m sure that is as shocking to you as it is to me.

So on this bombshell of positivity, I wish you a good weekend and let you know that the APSOTW results will finally be out next week.


Marketing To The Religious Right …

Over the years I’ve written about some strange beliefs some strange people have.

For strange people, read overly religious, bigoted individuals.

First there was the gum that claimed to stop you masturbating.

Then there was the soap that made you a virgin again.

Well if that wasn’t weird enough, I recently saw this …

Now that is some headline.

It’s a headline that commands your attention.

It’s a headline that demands you delve deeper.

And when I did, I discovered that – similar to TBWA’s current approach to disruption – I left feeling more repulsed than attracted to the cause or the topic. Have a read of this …

I have read this a few times.

And even now – as I read it again – I come away shaking my head in utter dismay and disarray.

Because while I appreciate the authors beliefs are her beliefs [even though I find them unbelievably condescending, patronizing and judgmental] I also think she is fundamentally wrong because I’m pretty sure the main thing young men look for in young women is a pulse.

I’m not saying that’s right but neither is this sort of blinkered bollocks.

But here’s the thing, as blinkered bollocks as this may be … there’s a bunch of people who not only believe this, but live by it. And our industry needs to acknowledge this reality, because while we can judge all we like in our personal opinions, we have to keep an open and curious mind to what’s going on in our professional lives, because real life is a damn sight more complex, twisted and confusing than the nicely curated versions of what’s going that we like to present to the World.

If great communication is about resonance rather than relevance, then knowing the weird is way more important than knowing the convention.

See The World From Another Persons Eyes … [APSOTW Assignment]

I know I said there’d be no blog posts till October because I’m busy moving countries [again]. but I thought I could use this ‘empty’ time to set a new APSOTW assignment.

Over the years we have covered all manner of subjects … from validating flag design to pitching new business to developing comms strategy to creating solutions to difficult problems.

But this time we’re going to do something different.

To be honest, it’s less about being evaluated on how you present your thinking and more an exercise on thinking.

Now the thing with thinking – especially thinking where advertising and creativity is concerned – is it rarely can be wrong.

Sure, people can have all manner of opinions on what you think… but it generally can’t be viewed as being fundamentally right or fundamentally wrong.

This is liberating – or should be – which is why I’m hoping as many people as possible will have a go at this assignment.

The actual deliverable is easy.

All you have to do is watch the below clip and tell me– based on what people are saying in the clip – what you think the brand could have said to make their audience care about shaving.

That’s right, all you have to do to take part in this assignment is watch a short film and then send me a single sentence.

That’s it. Easy eh?

OK, I’m not going to deny this is harder than it may first seem.

Part of that is because the clip is about African American men … so to succeed, you have to appreciate the context how African American men live in America.

The other challenge is you need to get your point of view into a single sentence.

That might sound super easy until you remember that single sentence has to also capture the context that makes your point of view so powerful.

[For a clue on how this could be done, click here … even though this example isn’t quite right as it’s based on having lots of additional information, which this challenge does not allow]

The reason for this challenge is 3 fold.

1. It will help your skills in reading subtext.
2. It will help you ability to write a provocative point of view.
3. It will help you make audiences want, or imagine, more from themselves.

As I said at the beginning, there’s probably no wrong answer to this assignment, but to win [and there will be a prize] you’ll need to see something in the conversations within the clip that you feel opens the door to a bigger, more intriguing, more exciting, more resonant point of view for the brand.

This is not about inventing something that isn’t there … this is about seeing something that is, but hidden in plain sight.

While the ultimate deliverable for this assignment is easy, your submission will be judged by some of the toughest, most experienced, most culturally authentic experts in their field, including – if I can convince him to publicly associate with me again – Jason White, the Global CMO of Beats.

So have a go, it will be fun and all you need to do is send me a SINGLE SENTENCE by September 30th to this address.

As I’ve said before, I believe the future of our industry will be built on developing ideas that are resonant with culture rather than trying to be relevant to them and hopefully this will help make that happen.

If you have any questions, please place them in the comments. Thank you.

It’s Nice To Be Hated …

A few weeks ago, I woke up to the photo above appearing on my phone.

The 2 people are both ex-planners of mine from Wieden and I admit it was nice to see them.

Then I realised they were never at Wieden at the same time – and even though they’re now both bigwigs at Apple – I suspect there reasons for getting together [and making sure I knew about it] was more to talk shit about me than to discuss the launch for the next iPhone.

Eitherway, I’m as proud as fuck about them and for them … and not just because I’m hoping for freebies.

As I’ve said many times before, I believe the role of a boss is to help develop your people so when they leave, they get a better job than they could ever of hoped for.

Of course, they have to do all the hard work.

They have to want to see where their potential could take them.

But by pushing them, developing them, giving them opportunities to grow and just overall helping them believe in their talent and where it could take them beyond where they currently are, you have a chance to play a small role in creating their future.

And that’s why, seeing David and Rodi lead Apple strategically across the entire Asia region [and for some perspective, just the iPhone business in China is bigger than the entire NIKE company worldwide] makes me so happy.

Not for what I did for them.

But what they did for themselves.

Now please give me the new iPhone or I’ll ask Baz to fire you.