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.

ARGH.

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 …

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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.



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.



The Final Countdown …

So today is the beginning of my final full month in America.

That blows my mind.

Without doubt I am sad my time here is coming to an end so soon – its been a great honour to be able to live here and meet so many amazing people – but by the same token, I’m genuinely excited to be moving back to my home country after 24 years away.

That said, part of the disappointment of leaving is I know I got to see and experience so little.

Sure, I’ve been to a bunch of places in my time here, but when you travel mainly for work, you never really get to get a feel for a place.

Yes, I have continued to do what I’ve always done in new cities [the follow up to that link can be read here] but that’s nothing like immersing yourself in the cultural underbelly of a place.

And that’s one of the main reasons I’m disappointed, because while America is a pretty fucked up right now and a lot of the industry here prefers easy over great, it is still an amazing country that I would have loved to have understood and experienced more of.

People, portions and lifestyle aside, there will be some things I’ll always take with me.

The realisation America’s version of a ‘compact car’ is a European 4×4.

The obsession people all have with ranch dressing.

The countries fascination with holidays and how they go all out for them.

The obsessive order people follow to get off planes.

The fact people say and write “Y’all”.

That checks/cheques are still a thing.

No one can talk about race, abortion, wealth, guns, racism. Ever.

That people are not at all comfortable with honesty and truth.

The hierarchy of corporate structures and how they work and are adopted.

The utter brilliance of The Cheesecake Factory.

Oh there are so many things … things I will take with me forever that will make me smile and frown for the rest of my days … but overall America has been very good to me and my family and for that, I will always be grateful.

Sure, the feelings are different to when I left China, but thanks to some of the people, experiences and work I was able to be a part of, I can leave feeling a better person than when I arrived, which – when you think about it – is the best way to leave anywhere.

I just hope some people will feel the same way.

At least the ones who now will always matter to me.

[Though I have a month to try and change that for them, ha]



Resist The Pressure To Reduce Yourself To Others Standards …

Many years ago, I wrote a training guide called, How to ask questions without being a bitch.

It happened because a junior account service colleague at Wieden didn’t know how to get clients to acknowledge her and the questions she had.

This was not because she wasn’t good, but because of gender stereotypes.

Well recently, I had a similar experience, except this time it was a brilliant strategist that a mutual friend of ours had introduced me to.

In my time in LA, I’ve met a whole host of strategists and – as I wrote a while back – many have left me feeling indifferent.

But not this person.

She was more than one of the good ones, she was one of the best.

Sharp as hell.

Unique – yet well thought out – perspectives.

A genuine love of being creative in interesting ways.

Anyway, as we were talking, I said I’d be really interested in hearing – or reading – her perspective on the future of storytelling. For some reason, she said yes and a few weeks I received a great paper with a great perspective.

Except there was one thing I didn’t like.

“The surprising part of this was the fact that my mentor, a white man, erudite and well-known in his profession, cared about my opinion. To give you some background – I’m in my 30s, a mixed bag of races, city kid, raised by a single mom type through and through. I’m a decade into my career and this was the first time I was asked to share my perspective by someone that, for all intents and purposes, matters.”

I hate it.

I hate that this was the first time she felt she was asked for her opinion.

I hate it for the shit she has obviously had to put up with in her life.

I hate the baggage that has weighed her down.

I hate the low expectations she had been forced to endure.

I hate the bosses she’s had that have told her to follow orders rather than encourage her to find her own voice.

And while she finished her paper with a resolve to not let this shit quieten her ever again, I’m still angry that a great talent has had to put up with shit designed to keep her down rather than lift her up, which is why I ask her – and any other planner who relates to this situation – to embrace my paraphrasing of the advice comedian Michelle Wolf received when she was about to take the stage at the White House Correspondence’s dinner, at the top of this page.

Burn it all down.



Cultural Schizophrenia …

An Italian buffet.

In China.

Featuring a German fräulein.

Holding a massive jug of beer. And a pretzel.

Without a single piece of pasta or pizza to be seen.

I honestly don’t know if this is insulting or genius.

But it certainly ups the ante on this Italian, Irish restaurant in Singapore.

I really want to know to things.

1. What sort of cultural Frankenstein food are they’re going to serve?

2. Who do the organisers think this is going to attract … apart from idiots?

And me.



How Raising A Child Reveals Whether You’re Full Of Shit …

I love my son.

I love him so much.

He is such a sweet kid.

Sure he’s a bit cheeky and a bit mischievous, but he’s just a lovely little boy.

I want his innocence and wonder to never leave him – but sadly, I know it will.

I also know things I’d never wish on anyone will happen to him.

Bullying.

Heartbreak.

Sadness.

And all I can do is try to prepare him for it in a way where he knows he can come through the other side.

Of course part of that will be by making sure he knows he is loved and supported unconditionally by his parents … the other part is making sure he is brought up with as much openness as possible.

One of those things is him understanding men and women are equal.

As I wrote about a while ago, my wife and I have had some stick from relative strangers in how we’re bringing Otis up.

One of the things they’ve ‘questioned’ is why we let Otis play with dolls and brooms, why we bought him a kitchen set and why we let him dance wherever and whenever the mood takes him.

Of course it’s none of their fucking business … but the fact is, we don’t want Otis to grow up thinking boys do this and girls do that and seeing our little boy being as happy playing with dolls as he is with his iPad is utterly wonderful.

I have to admit, I find the level of sexism around me frightening. I find it especially bad when I hear it from a man who has daughters. I literally cannot understand that.

And yet many ignore it exists.

They say any wrong behaviour is ‘cultural’ rather than sexist.

Of course there are cultural traits that define gender roles – especially in Asia – but that doesn’t mean they’re right or you have to carry on with them, even more so when you are not from this part of the World.

And yet it is everywhere – even in supposedly liberal and developed nations, as this wonderful piece by Hillary Clinton shows.

While Hillary says the way women are judged differently to men is ‘not bad, just a fact’, I find it deplorable.

But it’s true.

I remember having to tell one of my talented female planners to clap her hands a bit differently because it looked too much like a little girl and a bunch of sexist pricks would then judge her for that. I hated having to do that … but there was no way I was going to let this talented individual be ignored just because they had decided the way she applauds looks juvenile.

And that’s why I like what Cindy Gallop is doing.

Or what she’s trying to do.

My problem is she’s treating all white men as the enemy which, in my opinion, not only doesn’t serve her purpose any good, but is the sort of generalised bollocks that certain white men have treated females.

And that’s why Otis is being raised to see equality not prejudice … because values, roles and/or potential shouldn’t be evaluated or judged by gender or demographic, even if the way society operates – including those supposedly fighting against it – wants to keep that the norm.