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


I’m Watching You …

When I was at R/GA, I hired this brilliant planner called Joel.

It was weird how we met because it all started at a Google Firestarter meeting I was talking at.

At the end of my presentation, it was opened up to the audience for questions.

I couldn’t see who was asking anything as the lights from the stage were shining straight into my eyes. Anyway, there was one question that shone out from the rest of the questions of the night – basically challenging the London bubble of planning – and while I didn’t know who asked it, I wanted to find who did to say I liked it.

Alas I never found out who did.

A few days later, I got a message on LinkedIn from the person who asked the question.

His name was Joel.

I invited him for a coffee later that week and suddenly the person who asked the best question of the night was asking the best questions of the day.

But what made them extra good was he wasn’t doing it to show off or stand out, he was doing it because he was interested in the topics and interested to hear my perspective.

We talked about his background, his ambitions and then he did the one thing that almost guaranteed I wanted to hire him.

He called comprehensive school, ‘big school’.

BIG SCHOOL.

I hadn’t heard that since I was a kid in Nottingham and immediately I loved Joel for it. Because for all the time he had spent in London, he had not lost his Bradford realness … and then it became clear why he asked the question about the London bubble, why he was asking questions why culture rarely reflected how marketing department express it and why was the ad industry more interested in convenience than authenticity.

How could I not hire someone like that?

So I did.

And he never disappointed because apart from being culturally, creatively and strategically talented – with an obsessive focus on what life is really like for people, especially outside of London rather than the cliched, London bullshit a lot of marketing likes to portray – his greatest trait was he always wanted to learn.

Always.

Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t always the model student … he would push back, he would challenge, he would question … but what he doesn’t know is that was when I was the happiest working with him, because it meant he was believing his words rather than just following others.

And while we always have to be careful we don’t blindly think whatever we believe is the right answer, having confidence and conviction in your gut and your talent is an often underplayed, undervalued, under-encouraged skill in a strategist … which is why I was so happy to see when I left R/GA, Joel had a mug made with my face and my words on it.

Not because he missed my ugly face and lack of vocabulary, but to remind him to trust his smarts, his instincts and his authenticity … but never to be a prick about it.

If I was proud of him before. I am even prouder of him now.



Eau De Toilet. Literally And Metaphorically …

The fragrance industry is fascinating.

I’ve written a bunch about this in the past [here, here and here for example] but nothing reinforces my view than the new fragrance bottle from Moschino.

Have a look at this …

On one hand I admire how the industry uses creativity to design distinctive bottles and packaging – mainly because the smelly liquid inside has little value – and I love the fearlessness they tend to embrace all they do, but there’s few industries as pretentious as the fragrance industry. Hell, they’re even more pretentious than a Swiss finishing school run by a Victorian father.

Now I accept some are being ironic – or have evolved to be that way, like Gucci for example – but the vast majority continue to have their heads so high up in the clouds, that even the biggest dope smokers couldn’t reach them.

I’m not sure which side Moschino are on, but anyone who makes a perfume bottle to look exactly like a disinfectant spray and proudly puts the words ‘toilette’ on it, suggests either the biggest misstep or act of fragrance genius I’ve seen in years.



Timing Is Everything …

A while back, I wrote about WeWork.

Or more specifically, how the Messiah complex of one of the founders led to him ultimately screwing the company up with an ill-advised planned IPO.

Of course, as is the way with corporate-insanity – especially when you label your company a ‘tech’ company, even if it isn’t – he walked away for failure with a huge pay-cheque, which means being a start-up founder is even more lucrative after the job than it is for a football manager, which blows my mind.

[Though apparently it was not enough, because one of the founders, Adam Neumann, is suing Softbank for ‘abuse of power’ … when in reality, the only case they really have is Softbank giving them so much cash and praise, it led to Adam gaining a Messiah-complex]

Full disclosure, I did some work for WeWork when they first started.

I met Miguel – one of the ‘normal’ founders – and found him, and his ideas for the company both interesting and exciting.

And for a while it was.

They were tapping into a need that wasn’t being met by traditional office lease companies.

They invested in building a WeWork community because they recognised the commercial attraction of it.

They identified ways to profit from giving ‘start ups’ and ‘independent workers’ the sorts of benefits only people in more traditional employment enjoyed.
But then three things happened:

+ They realised the flaw in their business model because they signed long term property leases but had short term tenants.

+ To get long term tenants, they had to appeal to corporates who could screw them down on price, adding further pressure to their position.

+ To counter corporate price negotiation, they re-positioned themselves as ‘masters of igniting corporate culture and efficiency’ – which, at best, was marginally true and at worst, was plainly rubbish … because ultimately they were a contemporary office space leasing company.

Sure they offered more than some of their competitors.

Sure they were incorporating logistics into their offering.

But fundamentally, they sold space in buildings for others to work in.

I’m not knocking that, there’s a lot of very successful businesses who do it.

And I genuinely think the original WeWork idea was a good one – albeit with commercial flaws – but when ego, ambition and cash-flow pressure come together, they can make a pretty deadly combination, which the World – and employees of WeWork – discovered when the IPO forced them to open their books to the World.

However, I can’t help but think if Adam Neumann had waited just 6 months longer before announcing the IPO, he may have discovered WeWork was so in demand by companies wanting to reimagine their office approach post COVID-19, that investors may have overlooked all of his blatant exploitation and delusion.

I’m so glad he didn’t.



When Distinction Ends Up Being The Same …

Once upon a time, endlines meant something.

They were distinct, explained a brands value or purpose.

And more often than not, were packed with personality.

Then Dan Wieden fucked it up for everyone.

You see his famous JUST DO IT became the benchmark for all brands.

Marketing Directors craved a line that summed up who they were in 3 words.

The number of words was more important than what it said … which is why you now get this …

What a pile of shite.

Bland, contrived, sameness …

Literally doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do.

Designed to appeal to the ego of the board rather than the hearts of the audience.

All because we have fallen into the trap of believing simplistic equates to effectiveness.

It doesn’t.

Simple might do … but simplistic is the lowest common denominator that requires zero thinking because it makes zero impression.

It’s why I sit here and can remember endlines from my childhood more easily than end lines I watched 10 minutes ago.

Handmade by Robots … for Fiat.

Refreshes the other parts other beers can’t reach … for Heineken.

Do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo … for, ahem, Rolo.

Of course there’s a few modern endlines that work … GoPro’s ‘Be A Hero’ for example [though they went and fucked it up by changing it to utter blandom] … but in the main, companies seems to like endlines that sound like they know what they’re doing but don’t really say much at all.

At cynic we used to call these ‘Yoda Statements’, but what is even scarier is consultants are being paid a fortune to come up with this sort of twaddle.

That’s right, companies who claim to know how to help business grow are coming up with statements that literally make companies blend into everything else.

And yet they still are valued more highly by clients that companies who know how to push, provoke, inspire and capture the imagination of culture through creativity.

If anything tells you how mad the World is, surely one of them is that.



Stooopidcases …

Yesterday I wrote a post about stupid.

Well, it appears it may be the theme for 2020, because I just saw this …

Yes, that is an ad for a new suitcase that is making a big deal that it comes with wheels.

WHEELS.

Actually it’s much more than that because they’re making a big bloody deal about where the wheels are supposedly from.

Now I know I once bought a wifi suitcase that the security people at the airport wouldn’t allow me to take on a plane because the ‘battery charger’ wasn’t removable, but even for me this is utterly bonkers.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate Japan’s perfectionist, craft mentality – to make a big deal about ‘wheels made in Japan’ is possibly the best example of bonkers brand manager ego/delusion that you’ll see this year.

And no, I didn’t buy it.

Cheeky bastards.