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


If You Know Who You Are, You Don’t Have To Say Much About Yourself …

A while back, I wrote about a chef we met on a research project for Tabasco, who said something that had a big effect on me …

“The more confident the chef, the more simply your dish”.

I love this.

It captures so much in so few words.

As you will be able to tell from this blog, I find it hard to be succinct in pretty much everything and anything I do.

I spend ages thinking about things … what is important, what isn’t, what might be that I haven’t thought about yet and what I just want to try to see what comes out the other side.

This is incredibly annoying for almost everyone. Including myself.

But after I’ve messed about with it all and got an idea about where my energy lies, I can eventually get things down to their bare essential – by which I mean reduce it down to the most important thing I need others to understand and feel.

I must admit, I used to give myself a really hard time on how long this process took – especially when I could see others pull it off in the blink of an eye – but the reality is it takes a lot of hard work to be simple and rigour means what you do is right rather than just fast.

I say all this because I recently came across Apple’s marketing philosophy from 1977.

Look at that.

LOOK AT IT!!!

One page. One single little page.

Now I know some will claim it is simplistic.

Or it features words that people may not get, like ‘impute’.

But when you read it – which at one single page, means you definitely will – you quickly understand the 3 essential values that the brand stands for, believes in and values.

They give a fuck about their audience.

They are brutally focused on what they do.

They place great value on how they communicate themselves.

But there’s a couple of other things.

One is they openly talk about ‘creativity’.

To do that in 1977 is amazing.

To do that in 1977 when you are in the computer business, is almost unheard of.

But what I like is they link creativity with professional.

Because not only does it mean Apple don’t see these as being mutually exclusive – which was definitely not a commonly held belief back then, maybe even now – but it’s a clue to the work they want to be known for.

Not creativity for creativities sake, but how they look at the world.

What being professional looks like to them.
What the values of being professional means to them
What the word professional represents in terms of how you live and act.

And given they placed huge importance in understanding their audience, it meant they could do work that moved away from the typical suit and tie, business communication of the day and make work that spoke human to human … acknowledging the creativity in all of us and talking about human values not just corporate efficiency.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is one more thing I love about all this.

They talk about how, if they do it right, their customers will feel about Apple and their products.

Not a bunch of words … but emotion.

Of course this is all very obvious, but there are way too many clients who try to define the exact words they want people to play back to them.

Generic … overly-defined … corporate-talk … words.

It’s as if their bonus is linked directly to the quantity of words a focus group plays back to them.

Which is probably the exact reason why they do it.

But Apple in 1977 didn’t follow that path – and still don’t – because they, like NIKE and countless other brands who have a huge influence in culture, appreciate the simpler you are, the more powerful you become.



Research Is Great …

I heard a great story recently about the iconic movie, Die Hard.

Apparently in early test groups, viewers were confused why the lead character was pitched as a hero when he “keeps hiding and calling for help”.

I must admit, I laughed out loud when I heard this … mainly because it was a viewpoint that I don’t think I would have ever come up with, even if I was working on it 24/7 for a year.

It also probably says more about where the minds of American men were back when the movie came out than anything else.

And while learning this has ensured I will never watch the movie in the same way again, it does highlight the best and worst of focus groups.

I must admit I’m not a fan of this approach.

To be fair, it’s less the methodology and more about how clients are using what they find/hear.

Treating it as undeniable fact … something that needs to be followed to the letter.

But the reality is focus groups are – at best – a guide, rather than a blueprint.

Factors like group dynamics, vacuum thinking and the focus on answers, not understanding all combine to ensure there are a number of major flaws with this approach, and yet some blindly believe this is pathway to success.

Fools.

To be fair, I feel this way about pretty much all research methodologies.

Not because I’m a prick, but because context and dynamics continually shape our viewpoints and behaviours, which is why I don’t like relying on one form of research but a combination of different kinds … as long as one is spent out in culture, talking … listening … learning from the way the core of subcultures live.

Not just in terms of the specific thing we are working on, but life in general.

The language.

The associations.

The labels they use.

The pressures, laughter, fears and concerns …

Clothes … music … games … hashtags … iconography …

Their thoughts about situations not just their reactions or behaviours …

What they’ve started doing rather than what they’ve always done … the ‘edge effect’ that Martin and I talked about in our Cannes talk on Chaos last year.

But that approach is still seen as the exception rather than the rule.

Interacting with real life is still viewed as a novelty rather than a reality.

Which is why, if you have to use research, I like the way Dreamworks does it.

They don’t care about what people think about their stories or characters … they don’t give a shit about the highs or lows or things they’d change, they ask just one simple question …

Were you entertained?

That’s it.

It’s the only thing that matters to them.

Simple. Focused. Clear.

Because while they want people to enjoy what they do, they don’t want people to decide what they do …

Sure, they listen to what is said.

Sure, they sometimes decide to make changes based on what is said.

But they never do what they don’t agree with because you can’t steer a ship to port when you have a thousand captains all telling you where to go.

There’s a lot of people who could learn from this.

And I don’t just mean clients …



Back The Experts, Not Your Ego …

I’ve written about this – kinda – a long time ago.

As in FOURTEEN YEARS AGO.

It’s the situation where unless there is group consensus, nothing goes ahead.

Yes, I’m talking about that thing called democracy.

Now I’m all for democracy … even when it goes bonkers and votes in our current Prime Minister.

But when it comes to the issue of creativity, I am less inclined to support it.

You see creativity is pretty subjective … it is also pretty scary … so even though our industry is filled with highly trained, highly experienced, highly regarded experts in the field, the decision to make something often ends up being driven by a client asking themselves, “do I like it?”.

Actually, it’s probably not that and more, “will my bosses like it?”

Oh of course no one will admit that … they’ll talk about how their experience or their conversations with clients/colleagues/customers is influencing their decision, but more often than not the reality is they feel far more comfortable doing something that ‘fits in’ rather than ‘stands out’.

Fitting in is safe.

Fitting in doesn’t get the scrutiny.

Fitting in doesn’t upset anyone around you.

So we end up in a situation where many clients ignore the experts – the people who know how to capture the imagination of the public in a way that serves their clients best interests – and focus on what the people around them think.

Or said another way, their strategy to approval is to ensure they can mitigate blame rather than drive glory which is why they allow the decisions to be made by committee rather than by their personal commitment.

It’s similar to those marketers who let research make the decision for them rather than inform their decision.

It’s the abdication of responsibility.

Now of course not everyone does this.

There are some amazing clients out there … those who are clear in what they want to achieve and trusting in the experts who want to help them get there.

But it’s getting less and less which is why we are ending up in more and more situations where ideas are born from pragmatism, diluted through fear and then executed by committee.

And if you need more proof, here’ is a quote from Dave Trott …



Argos Is Christmas …

When I was younger, I discovered the ‘Argos’ catalogue.

It was at my Grandparents house and it was a bloody revelation.

For those who don’t know what Argos is, imagine Amazon.com before Amazon.

A place where you can buy a huge array of products, all of which were featured in an annual catalogue which you could take home and peruse at your leisure.

[It’s also famous for little pens – now pencils – that you would have to use to fill in the forms to get the products when you went into the store. Pens/pencils that I would say everyone in England has ended up keeping at some point in their lives]

But for me, it only had 2 uses …

1. To get a glimpse at the future of technology.

2. To choose what I really, really wanted for my birthday/christmas.

Every time I visited my grandparents, I would run to where they kept the Argos catalogue and spend hours going through all the pages, gazing lovingly at digital watches, calculators, the emergence of hand held ‘electronic’ games and – eventually – computers.

Every year the catalogue came out, I would be see the advances of tech in front of my eyes.

But more than that, for the right money – I could have it.

Of course I – nor my parents – had the right money except maybe at Christmas, but a boy could dream … and boy did I.

I still remember the excitement the first time I saw Astro Wars … a handheld version of the video game Galaxian

It was like the impossible dream.

A full sized video game shrunk into a small box.

What sort of weird wizardry was this???

I still remember how a bunch of us at school saw it at the same time and we all knew it was the ‘must have’ present for the year.

I was incredibly lucky to get it that year … and while it was a bit crap, I still utterly loved it because to me, that was cutting edge tech.

[As an aside, I just discovered it cost £28 in 1980 – the equivalent of £100 today, so I am utterly gobsmacked I got it given my parents would have had to have saved up for months to afford that. So thank you Mum and Dad, I never realized it was that pricey]

Anyway, the reason I say all this is that Argos have recently digitized all their old catalogues.

And while you may ask yourself, “why?” and “why would anyone care?” you’d be wrong … because if you’re a person of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was not a book of products available for purchase, it was a place of imagination and possibilities and while the stuff inside the late 70’s/early 80’s catalogues are full of the sort of tat even a ‘Everything for £1’ store, would turn their noses up at, looking through them all again, I can honestly say it ignited the excitement I had back then.

Truly.

And yes, that means I really have spent hours trawling through them all.

Again.

And what’s more, I don’t care how sad that makes me.

It was a magical journey down nostalgia lane.

More specifically, nostalgia that was specific to my life, not just everyone else’s.

America may have had Disneyland.

But us kids in Britain had the Argos catalogue.

You can explore the history of 40+ English imaginations, here and you can see why I think the Argos Christmas campaign – which links to the nostalgia theme of the old catalogues – is already the winner of 2019, below.



Brighton Is Rubbish. Kinda …

I went to Brighton recently and I have to say, I quite liked it in a try-hard-to-be-cool kind of way.

And while there was a bunch of things to see and explore, one thing stood out from all of them.

This …

I have to be honest, while I am all for sorting out your rubbish, a public bin just for BBQ food is pretty spectacular.

Especially as I didn’t spot a single place selling BBQ food anywhere near it.

But as I wrote about the bins in LAX airport, by not labeling it simply as ‘rubbish’, it did stop me in my tracks.

Made me look more closely.

Made me think.

Which begs the question, for all the logic we are approaching the challenges of the environment – maybe the best way to get people to actually think and reconsider is not to bathe them in facts about our self-created, impending apocalypse, but to use language and imagery that cracks the firewalls we have put up around ourselves to manage this sort of information on our own terms.

It might be counter-intuitive, but as the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Doncaster County Council grit machine campaign showed, sometimes the most sensible thing we can do to create change is to embark on utter madness.

Just like my Boaty McBoatface argument that I am absolutely not bitter about in any way, even thought they completely ignored it and dismissed it out of hand.

Oh no.

When will authorities appreciate that humans are hypocritical.

That common sense is often in the eye of the beholder rather than their being some uniform fire of how everything should be.

This is why we have rubbish ads, rubbish politicians and rubbish products … because while I appreciate we need certain benchmarks to move forward, so many of the things we rely on are as fake as the Emperors New Clothes.

Designed to hide our truth rather than to reveal it.

That doesn’t mean you should stop talking to people, far from it, it actually means you need to spend even more time with them so you can get even closer to them. Understand their realities, their contexts, their truths and dramas and all the nuances and personal rabbit holes they go down to manage what they think and decide to do.

People are fascinating, but it needs more than a fucking focus group or poll to discover it.

As I’ve said before, if you want them to respect your clients brand, start respecting them~.



Best Of The Best Or The Least Bad?

Today I’m judging the Effies.

Oh awards …

I’ve written so, so much about them in the past.

Like here. And here. And here. And here.

I must admit, I am intrigued to see what they are going to be like in the UK.

Will they be a celebration of insightful efficiency or will they be like I experienced too many times in Asia, a stream of consciousness that just rumbles along till they think they have explained how they got to their idea and how they have proved it worked.

I guess we shall see later today.

I really, really hope they are good.

Not just because the Effies have always had a standard they’ve lived up to, but because it will give me faith the industry still has fight in it to do things right.

In my time in the UK, I’ve read a bunch of planning documents/portfolios/resumes that have been more about packaging.

Repeating a client brief in a way that has been ‘sexed up’.

Superficial.

Executional.

Literal.

There are a bunch of reasons for this.

Part of it is the lack of training agencies give their strategiests.

[Hence why we started the School of Strategic Arts]

Part of it is the huge amount of freelance planners out there who are doing exactly what they are asked because they are fighting for their livelihood.

And part of it is because of the client/agency remuneration deals which means planners are giving too little time to explore the best outcome to the problem they face.

Planning has a valuable role to play in effectiveness.

Planning has a valuable role to play in creativity.

But it needs to be allowed to do it to make it happen … so here’s hoping we see the best of what it can do today, because the Effies is not just important for the people who win, but for what the industry needs to get back to being.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.