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


Proof I Live In A Place That Is The Truman Show Mixed With Pleasantville …

What I’m about to write will make you sick.

It might very well make you angry.

But there is something about Los Angeles I am finding hard to deal with.

Yes, I know it’s an amazing city and where I specifically live – Manhattan Beach – has a landscape that looks like this …

… and a local council who does this at Christmas …

… but the difference between Shanghai in terms of exposure to culture is very, very different.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s there … in many ways, there’s even more of it than in China … but the reality is LA is a series of small towns, 88 to be exact, so you have to actively go to different places to be immersed in the energy of culture whereas in Shanghai, the moment you stepped outside you were drowned in it.

In essence, where once I had to close my front door to stop the roar of culture enveloping me, in LA I have to open it to go find it.

And I’m finding that tough to deal with, because the energy I got from that madness in Shanghai literally energized me.

What makes this additionally difficult is because this is the first time I’ve worked in a place that isn’t in the heart of a city and so the people you tend to run into are either colleagues or people from the agencies around us … like MAL or 72.

Now I appreciate this is a first World problem and it’s not that hard to deal with, but when you are a single-minded believer that to do your job well, you need to be in the middle of cultural craziness – it means that for the first time, I have to actively make time to ensure I am in it.

More than that, I have to make time to make sure the people in my team have the time to stay in it.

Play. Explore. Learn.

And this leads me to the point I want to make.

In my short time in the US, it appears many agencies and clients value data more than culture.

Everything is talked about in terms of data points.

Strategy is created because of data points.

Work is tested for data points.

Now don’t get me wrong, data – if done properly and understood properly – is incredibly important.

More than that, it’s incredibly powerful.

And I’m fortunate I work with some people – and clients – who get that.

But putting aside a lot of what is out there is questionable or the interpretation of it is questionable … the reality is that this data only truly comes alive when it is injected and explored through the texture of culture.

What they think.

How they feel.

What they fear.

The stuff that elevates data from charts to creative opportunities.

The stuff that you only get by being in it, rather than reading it.

And that’s why it’s so important for us to be surrounded by the mess and noise of what is happening around us – not just in the spotlight, but also the shadows – because while it seems many think it is a waste-of-time, it’s the foundation for creating work that is born from the culture rather than is just a bad interpretation of it.

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Speak In A Way Culture Can Hear …

I know this week has been a week of super short, super bad posts – even by my standards – but today I end the week on a longer and more serious note.

A few weeks ago, the country singer Glen Campbell died.

Despite sharing the same surname, I have never shown any interest in this singer/songwriter because basically, I hate country music.

Sure, I knew a couple of his songs, but if you’d asked me who sang them, I would have not been able to tell you in a million years.

So why am I writing about his death?

Well, when he died, a friend of mine – who is a massive music guy – wrote on his Facebook about Glen Campbell’s life and there was one bit that really hit me which was how he dealt with being diagnosed with Alzheimers.

Rather than retire quietly, he stepped up his workload.

Not to capitalize on his illness or end his career on a high … but because music was something he loved and he wanted to enjoy it before he forgot it.

And he was forgetting it.

He needed a teleprompter on stage to help him remember the lyrics to his songs.

He needed to be reminded that some members of his band were his very own children.

But that’s not the thing that hit me, it was the fact that he wrote a song about his illness called, ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’.

To be honest, just hearing he had done that reminded me of the poem Clive James wrote about his impending death. A post that was extra significant at the time because I was about to fly to England to be with my Mum for her impending heart operation – an operation that sadly didn’t work.

As many of you know, I’ve written a lot about death.

Not because I particularly like the subject, but because I believe not talking about it can do us far more harm.

It’s never a comfortable topic to discuss, but I know my denial of my Fathers situation led to me experiencing 10 years of pain.

And while my Mum died unexpectedly, she had made sure that it was something we talked about in general terms and then – as an act of love that is almost impossible to comprehend – she quietly made arrangements to ensure that if she did not get through the operation, the legal ramifications of her passing would not add extra burden to my broken heart.

I must admit, I initially found it hard to think that she had done this for me.

Of course I recognised it as an act of love but as she had once told me that she was scared of dying alone, I imagined her fears would have become even stronger while she was preparing all these things for me.

I’ve got to be honest, it’s only writing this that has made me realise that regardless the nervousness Mum was feeling, she would also have had a sense of contentment that she was able to do this for me.

That’s a level of love that has literally made me tear up while I am writing this which reinforces why I am so, so glad that she knew I was with her when the worse moment happened.

I write all this because I hope Glen Campbell’s family will one day feel the same sense of love when they read the lyrics to his sons, ‘I’m not gonna miss you’.

I can’t imagine how it must have felt hearing this song for the first time – especially as his Alzheimers had only just been diagnosed – but in time, I truly hope they can see past the pain and feel the love of someone who, at their darkest hour, wanted them to know how much he loved them.

I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you
Not gonna miss you
I’m never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You’re never gonna see it in my eyes
It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry
I’m never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I’m not gonna miss you
I’m not gonna miss you

It those lyrics haven’t affected you, then you’re not human.

Which leads to a point I’d like to make about advertising.

No, really …

As you will have worked out by now, I am an emotional bloke.

Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t value intelligence or information or data, it’s just that if our learnings aren’t conveyed in a way that captures how our audience actually feels, it becomes ‘cold’ to me.

Part of this is because I believe our job is to connect to culture, part of this is because I believe creativity should push and provoke … but mostly, it’s because I believe the best work connects to audiences on a much deeper level than the superficial.

Put simply, it feels like it’s come from inside the culture rather than from someone observing it.

And that’s why Glen Campbell’s song is so powerful to me … because even though I hate country music, when I read his lyrics, I was reminded that great work talks in a way you powerfully feel rather than passively rationalize.

Thank you for the lesson Glen.