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

What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]


The State Of Advertising Is In A State …

I’m back.

Did you miss me?

No, didn’t think so …

Anyway, a friend of mine recently wrote an article in the UK edition of Campaign Magazine about the state of outdoor advertising.

He made many good points – from the fact it’s now been relegated to ‘out of home’ categorisation to so much of it ignoring the basic principles of static communication by shoving so many words on it, you get the impression it’s a print ad, just repurposed for outdoor.

But for me, his point was not just about outdoor, but advertising as a whole.

Have a look at this ad by BBH London.

Nice isn’t it.

It ran in 1997 [I think]

Now look at this ad.

Same product.

Same agency.

Even the same line.

Horrible isn’t it.

OK, it’s not horrible by todays standards, but when you compare it to the ad they made 20 years earlier, it is.

And what’s with that ‘beautifully designed’ copy?

As if a car manufacturer would choose to make an ‘ugly designed’ car.

In the last 20 years, the standard of creativity has been severely dented.

Oh sure, Cannes is out there celebrating winners left, right and centre but there’s 2 flaws in their praise:

1. So much of it is scam.

2. The rest of it is niche.

But here’s the thing, the quality inside ad agencies has not diminished – if anything, it has improved – and let’s not forget, both of these ads were done by BBH … one of the all time greats … so I can only assume the shift downwards is being caused by clients focused on satisfying their ego rather than intriguing their audience.

Which makes me question whether clients understand what advertising is and how it actually works … because it seems they are of the belief the masses are sat at home waiting for them to tell them what they should care about so they can run out at the earliest opportunity and make the purchase.

Of course I know that’s not true and of course, I know there are some amazing clients out there – because I’ve worked with them – but maybe this madness is because clients are more focused on the words/phrases played back in their post campaign research analysis [ie: beautifully designed] rather than aiming for society be intrigued, excited or hungry for their brand.

In other words, for all the research and data we have on audiences, there’s far too much emphasis on what brands want people to care about them rather than understanding – and connecting to them – on what they actually care about.

So to Audi, please get back to communicating driver to driver, because not only is this ‘brand to consumer’ approach not working, it’s making you look like every other bland car brand in the category and that kind of defeats the purpose of investing millions of dollars in marketing.

The Bullshit Of Big …

So a few months ago, I was invited to talk at a conference about ‘ideas’.

Yeah … I know, it’s all been said and done before, but the reality is a good idea is still the only legal means to counter distribution, history and cash.

The issue is a lot of the ideas being spoken about are not ideas, they’re attempts at hype.

The ad industry is notoriously bad at this, often confusing an ad idea with an idea or worse, confusing bollocks, with genius.

Anyway, while I was there, I got to hear a bunch of great people speak – people who have built sustainable businesses through genuine breakthrough ideas – and despite them covering a whole range of industries, there was one thing that was common to them all.

Their idea made sense.

They could describe it in a few words.

And while it’s true some of their ideas required massive infrastructure change before they would see success, at the heart of it, their idea was something simple and – to a certain degree – obvious.

Each one had tackled a real problem, not a marketing problem.

Each one had looked for what the audience didn’t like rather than improving what they did.

Each one was able to be utterly focused on what was the key deliverable to increase the odds of success.

Each one ensured the execution of their idea was as intuitive as possible to minimise the gap between the old ways and the new.

These 4 things helped them get investment.

These 4 things helped them get other people to share their enthusiasm for their idea.

These 4 things helped them build a business that disrupted the category to define the category.

It sounds so bloody simple and yet so few people are actually any good at doing it.

Sure, there’s a whole host of other factors that go on behind the scenes to make it happen … and they all talked about the stresses and failures they had along the way … but what really struck me was that regardless whether they had developed a new car brand or a new way for youth to interact, each and every one of them described their idea in a way that made sense.

Now compare that to some of the ideas we see from our industry …

Pegs that use weather aggregation technology to tell you when it is best to wash your clothes.

Plates that use holes to drain 30 calories of fat from each meal.

Caps that help blind paralympic swimmers, swim.

There’s a reason they end up as scam because no venture capitalist worth their salt would invest in them.

I know there are many, many brilliant people in this industry.

I know there are many brilliant ideas that can be turned into something phenomenal for brands and business.

But maybe it would help the whole industry if we stopped thinking we were the Idea Kings and learnt from the people who have made it happen … because while it seems what they have achieved is incredible, their genius is that they made is sound utterly acceptable and inclusive.


Design Memories …
January 20, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment, Family, Focus Groups, Insight, Mum & Dad, Research, Sentimentality

I have written a lot about the hypocrisy and complexity of humans.

For all the claims that we are generally consistent and sensible, the reality is we are simply good at hiding our truth.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was on a plane from Zurich, flicking through the duty free catalogue.

To be honest, I do this all the time – never buying anything – just looking at the tat that is being flogged at 30,000 feet.

But that all changed when I saw this:

Now, as you may have guessed by the quality of photo, this isn’t the picture from the catalogue, it’s actually the picture I took of the product after I purchased it.

Now you may be wondering why I bought a clock?

Or why I bought a clock from a plane?

Well, contrary to popular belief, it is not because I have an insatiable need to spend my money … nor is it because I have an obsession with knowing the time … it’s because it reminded me of the Braun alarm clock my parents had when I was a kid.

Yes … I appreciate that means I’m a sentimental old fart – not to mention Braun are a bunch of lazy bastards in terms of design updates – but the fact is, with my parents gone and my family home totally refurbished, having things that connect me to my family life are becoming even more precious and important to me.

Yes, I know people say ‘but you have your memories’, but frankly – at least for me – that’s not enough, I crave something more tangible, more real, more in the present.

I can’t actually remember how or why my parents got their clock. Part of me thinks it was a free gift when they enquired about some insurance policy or something, but regardless of the reason, it cemented itself in my consciousness.

I remember how my parents used to use it as their alarm clock, placed on Dad’s side of the bed so he could hit snooze in the morning.

I remember how I would always hear it’s distinctive alarm tone from my bedroom. Followed by the slap of a hand on the snooze button before it repeated itself 8 minutes later.

I remember how I would go into their bedroom at weekends and move the ‘alarm hands’ so I could set the sound off over and over again.

It might be a small thing, but to me it’s a big thing because I don’t see it as an alarm clock purchased on a plane from Zurich, I see it as a memory of my past that I’ve been able to bring back into my present and that makes me feel good, warm and – in a bizarre way – a bit safe.

I know there’s no logic to that, I know it is all in my head, but people are funny like that.

Regardless what moderators in focus groups might say.