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


You Know Adland Is In A Hole When A Lord Mayor Has A Better Philosophy Than Us …

Magic Magid is a British-Somali who has served as the Lord Mayor of Sheffield since May ’18.

Yes, the Lord Mayor.

Given he was born in 1989, his appointment has attracted a lot of media attention – not just because of his young age and cultural background – but because he is also the first Green Party councillor to hold the role.

But that’s not why I’m writing about him, I’m writing about him because of the way he connects to culture.

Where most politicians tend to say whatever they think their audience want to hear – and then, once elected, use fear and put-downs to control their audience’s actions – he not only says what he believes [and attracts people on those shared beliefs] but he also shows great belief in the capabilities and possibilities of his constituents.

Have a look at this …

How is that for a set of philosophical beliefs?

Pointed.
Topical.
Cultural.
Humorous.
Positive.

Is it any surprise he has made youth give a damn about politics?

While the opposition are fixated on scoring points against each other, Magic Magid communicates a way of living and behaving that pulls the community together.

A set of standards and rules you can live by.

A set of standards and rules you would be proud of following and representing.

Now of course his actions have to represent his words but just in terms of fresh energy, it sets a direction by which most things can either be filtered through or measured against.

Now look at adland.

What are our beliefs?

What are we saying that is making people want to believe?

Making people want to be a part of us?

Sure there are some agencies that still have them … still live by them … but the thing I find sad is all agencies started with a set of distinct beliefs that differentiated them from the crowd and yet now, the vast majority of the industry tends to behave in the same, blunt and ambigious way.

We say the same things.

We read the same books.

We aspire to the same goals.

Christ, we’ve become more corporate than the clients who used to hire us to stop them being corporate.

The World is changing.

I love that we live in times where the minority – or underdog – can no longer simply be ignored.

Where how you do things is becoming as important as what you do.

And yet despite claiming to know how to move culture better than anyone else, adland continues to stick rigidly with what it knows even though publicly, they’re desperately trying to associate with the latest new, new thing.

Where are the leaders?

The mavericks?

The pioneers?

Oh I know, in the file labelled ‘too much trouble’.

Let’s hope we learn before it’s too late.

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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.



Every Detail Matters …

So I’ve not been sacked – yet – which means I feel confident enough to write another post for the week.

About a month ago, as I was flying to LA from Hong Kong, I re-watched the Michael Mann classic, Heat.

Making a movie – like making communication – consists of many elements.

Sure, you need a great story and you need great actors who can bring that story to life … but what really elevates the work to something special is a passion for the details.

Or said another way, the craft of craft.

In simple terms, this means the person heading the project doesn’t just appreciate what they don’t know, but they trust the people around them, who do.

They create the time and space for the broader team to do their best work on their areas of expertise. Encouraging debate and discussion to explore how each member of the team believe they can enhance the goal of the project to even bigger and more exciting places.

I think Heat is an example of this.

While Michael Mann wrote and directed the film, he allowed his expert team to be experts … ensuring every scene was as powerful or as believable as it can be.

There are many things I could highlight …

From allowing De Niro and Pacino to ad-lib their cafe scene because he trusted their talent to make the moment something unique right through to making sure the way the actors left the bank [after they robbed it] mirrored how trained soldiers would leave such a building.

[Apparently that scene is still used by many military organizations as a way to train their soldiers on how to leave a building]

But while those things are good, if you really want to see craft in action – and understand the impact it can have on the final product – then rewatch HEAT and marvel at the sound design of the main gun fight … because despite the movie being over TWENTY THREE YEARS OLD, it still stands out for all its majestic power and still continues to make the viewer feel like they’re actually in the scene.

Details matter.

Talent matters.

Craft matters.



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.



Another Chapter Ends, Another Chapter Begins …

So today is going to be my last post for a while.

As you know, I’m leaving America and moving to the UK … and that all happens over the next 12 days.

Next week I say my goodbyes to Deutsch and then, 6 days after that, we move to the UK.

Because we have a bunch to do – from packing up to finding a new place to live – I need to focus on my family more than writing rubbish blog posts, hence while I endure a momentary period of maturity pain, you get to experience a momentary period of peaceful gain.

But don’t get too comfortable … it’s definitely going to be momentary as I’ll be back up and running on October 1.

Oh yes. Be afraid, be very afraid.

That aside, I have to say the last few weeks have been pretty hard.

Not in the sense of getting everything together for the move – though that is still an utter pain in the ass, despite the fact we have done it so many time – it’s just that the life in LA is pretty spectacular.

As I wrote once before, I’ve had better weekends in America than I may have had pretty much anywhere in the World and to say goodbye to that is hard.

Of course a big part of it is the amazing weather and that we had cars for the first time in 15 years [and trust me, after all I went through to get my car, saying goodbye to that has been a pain too] but the other key element is that LA is an outdoor city and to be able to spend so much time with my family in the fresh air has been an amazing gift.

Of course London will offer us alternative wonderful experiences, but that sunshine is a pretty addictive thing.

The other hard part is saying goodbye to people.

OK, not goodbye for ever – technology ensures that doesn’t have to happen – but goodbye in terms of seeing you each day.

All of my family have met people here who have become incredibly important to us.

Jill has made friends here that have become incredibly important to her. Friends that will stand the test of time and distance. Friends that have made my wife truly happy and supported … and for that, I send a personal big thanks to Emma, Zoe and Amber to name a few.

Otis is inundated with them – thanks to his magnificent school – but no one will be missed as much as his beloved Elodie.

To be honest, we’re not sure if he truly understands what moving to London means in terms of implications. While technology means he will be able to still see and talk to Elodie, it will obviously be very different. I have to say we’ve handled this move with him very gently. Even though he’s already moved from China, he’s only 3 years old so his World is both huge and small. To try and make him feel as comfortable as he can be, we’ve made sure his feelings have been taken into account at every stage of the process – from creating a book of all the things he has seen and done in LA to showing him pictures of the things he will see in London to asking him to help us decide where our new family home will be.

Despite having moved countries more times than I care to remember, the fact is I never left home until I was 25 and I remember how traumatic that was for me. For a kid of 3, it must be insane … which is why he needs to feel his family unit is stronger than superglue while everything around him is changing.

I wish I didn’t have to put him through this, but apart from it being linked to work [more of that at a later date], part of this move is because Jill and I [and even the cat, probably] want him to be somewhere he can build real, longer-term roots.

As much as we loved LA, it was never going to be our long term home.

It was/is great, but we just didn’t really have an emotional connection to the place because we came here for work more than anything else.

Sure, if we had stayed longer, that might have changed – but England offers us roots. A place with some deep connections thanks to my background and – to a certain degree – Jill’s.

We have old friends there. People Otis knows and loves. And while I don’t think England will be our last stop on our journey, I do think it will be a significant one … a place where my family can build real roots and my son can find someone who becomes as important in his life and history as my beloved Paul is to me.

That is our goal. That is what my family needs. That is something we’re excited about.

But moving on means leaving things behind and for me, I am going to be saying bye to a bunch of people that have become very important to me.

The weird thing about LA is that by the time we moved here, an incredible amount of old friends and colleagues had also moved here. In fact, it meant LA was the place where I knew more people than anywhere else in the World.

Madness.

And as much as I’ll miss those guys, I’ve gone through this with them before so they don’t get to fuck with my heart that badly a second time. However there are a bunch of new people who I am going to hate to say bye too.

From our wonderful neighbours Kim and Dave to the lovely Elena – who Otis adored and trusted in no time at all – to the people at Noah’s Bagel’s who kept giving me free coffee because they found my t-shirts ‘amusing’.

But in particular I want to say a big thank you to some folks who made my weekdays better than I deserved.

There’s a bunch of them, but in particular I need to single out the amazingly talented and beautiful Jorge, the always happy [despite my shit] Zaid, the ‘Bake Queen’ Dana, the brilliant, patient, supportive and precious BCG [you know who you are, what you did for me and how much you mean to me] and – of course – my planning team.

Having spent 7 years with an incredible group at Wieden Shanghai, I didn’t know how I’d feel working with a totally different bunch, in a totally different country with a totally different context in terms of planning and creativity … but I can honestly say, it’s been an absolute pleasure working with them.

They’ve been incredibly good to me.

Putting up with my ‘ways’ and embracing my approaches.

And while all of them have played an important role in pushing the department forward, I have to give a special thanks to Kelsey, Rachael, Maya, Leigh, Heide, Lani, Ben, Mitch and Armando [and Donn, who fucked off for a pot of gold and a Lexus] for simply putting up with me on more projects than anyone else without – as far as I know – reporting me to HR.

There’s a lot of talent in this team, talent that can push them – and the agency – a long way, so I hope they continue being mouthy, opinionated, curious fucks … because as we saw in our brilliant America In The Raw study/book … when you stand for something, it stops the masses falling for anything.

I hope they feel I made a difference.

I hope they feel they’re in a better place than before I arrived.

I hope they can see bigger possibilities for who they are and what they can achieve.

For me, that’s the most important thing, even though I wish I could have achieved more.

For them. For me. For the agency.

[Though I have to say, I’m particularly proud that I got the office billboard changed, hahaha]

In all seriousness, I feel I’m leaving America a better person than when I arrived – which is the best way to leave any place – and that’s why I’m so grateful to all my planning team for what they did for me and helped me do.

Honestly, there’s a bunch of people here I’ve enjoyed working with, but this is already getting into Oscar speech territory, so in the interests of boredom, I’ll end this post with this.

Thank you LA.

Thank you for giving my family an experience we will always remember and treasure.

Thank you for the friendships, the memories and the opportunities we got to explore and enjoy.

I will always be grateful for the time I spent here, however short.

I hope America sorts itself out.

It’s an amazing country that deserves better. Needs to be better.

To do that, it needs to stop fighting as enemies and start talking as friends.

I don’t know if that will ever happen, especially under the current regime, but a united America is a good America and I want everyone I’ve met here to have the opportunities they deserve.

It’s been an honour and a privlidge and we’ll be back … for a visit, if only to prove to Otis that once upon a time, he really did live in [lifestyle] paradise.

London … here we come.

______________________________________________________________________________

Oh hang on, there’s one last thing before I go.

I know … I know … this post is going on forever.

In the tradition of leaving companies with my indelible mark, the good people of Deutsch LA have received 2 things:

Every member of my wonderful planning department have been given a copy of the highly enlightening Ladybird Book Of Meetings [for future ‘self protection/preservation’ purposes] while the rest of the agency have been left with these highly desirable, culturally bold [Ahem!], future collector item badges/buttons.

I think it’s how they’d like to remember me.

Or should I say, how they will remember me.

Look, I know as horrible as these things are, they’re still less painful than the 600 stickers I hid throughout Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, but then Deutsch only had to endure a year of my pain where the lovely folks in China suffered for over 7.

I’m so considerate with my nastiness.

Which is probably why that after all this, they still have to put up with me for 4 days next week.

Cue: Evil Laugh.

It’s been a memorable adventure so a big thank you for everything.

See you America. See you soon England.



Down The Rabbit Holes …

So we’ve recently had some interns join the Deutsch planning mob.

They’re smart, passionate and enthusiastic as hell.

Far smarter than I was at their age. Arguably, smarter than I am now.

So I met up with them to see how they were going and they told me how they were getting to grips with things because initially, it was so overwhelming that they found themselves going down a lot of rabbit holes.

I get it, it was super daunting to me when I started too but the one thing that concerned me was their belief that rabbit holes were a negative.

As I pointed out to them, if they don’t go down rabbit holes, then they’re no use to me.

Rabbit holes are an essential part of the planning process.

Not just in terms of exploring possibilities to tackle the problem you have been given … nor to pressure test the strategy you have identified … but to also reveal if there is are more interesting ways to tackle the problem than you may have originally considered or identified.

Rabbit holes are as much about opening possibilities as they are closing them which is why if you don’t embrace them, all you’re doing is screwing yourself – and the client – over.

Sure, focusing on what you think the client will buy may get you quicker approvals and client compliments, but allowing your brain the space and time to wander can help you get to somewhere new … somewhere exciting … somewhere that allows creativity to take you to places no one saw coming … places that will attract rather than chase … and even if you don’t end up somewhere more interesting than where you started, at least you can be sure the strategy you’re recommending has been pushed and prodded, which is why I passionately believe rabbit holes aren’t a waste of time, but a key deliverable of what we do and have to do.



Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.