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


We Are All The Same Even If We Are Different …

I have written a lot about how we are bringing up Otis.

What we want for him, what we want him to value.

I have also written about the education we want for him.

A none-religious, state school that celebrates creativity as much as the more traditional academic pursuits.

Sadly I know there are many people out there who think we are mad for the choices we make, but as I have also written, my advice to them is to look after their own kids upbringing and leave ours to us.

That said, following these ideals is not easy.

Apart from the simple issue of access, the reality is most schools and kids companies focus on structure, stereotypes and grades because that is what most parents – and Governments – seem to value most of all, so for us to go outside of that takes effort and commitment.

None of this means we don’t want Otis to have a quality education – of course we do – it’s just that when it comes to what we think ‘education’ means, we see it going beyond the importance of reading, writing and maths.

We want his school to help him develop a love of learning.

Give him the ability to practice critical thinking.

An openness and comfort to express himself openly and creatively.

But there’s something more – something we feel very strongly about – which in part is one of the reasons we’re against religious and private schools.

You see we want him to learn that stereotypes limit, control and create prejudice.

That just because you’re a different gender or come from a different heritage or have a different sexual preference doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to – or achieve the same level as – anyone else.

And while it’s a small thing in the big scheme of things, it is the reason why I love that Otis’ school had a black Santa visit them last Christmas.

Of course Otis didn’t care, comment or even probably notice … but for the other little kids who come from different backgrounds, they saw a face that could give them comfort, confidence and courage about who they are, where they come from and what they can achieve and who wouldn’t want a school that teaches kids – all kids – that.

Education is so much more than just grades and while this is not all of the schools responsibility, it is part of their responsibility.

Advertisements


What If We’re Wrong …

One of the things that bothers me is how data [in marketing] has become law.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of data – or should I say, real data that has been amassed properly, read properly and used properly – but a lot of the stuff today is nothing more than small bits of information packaged to be big bits of information.

Worse, a lot of it has no texture whatsoever … designed to reinforce a position someone wants rather than to inform and enlighten on things you don’t know but would like to find out.

But even then, data is not infallible.

There, I said it.

Data is as good as the people who created it.

And yet day after day, I read about companies who treat their data like its god … even though you can see the flaws in their approach from 10,000 miles away.

From what they’re trying to discover.

To how they’re trying to discover it.

To what they want to do with it once they’ve got it.

No surprise then that so many then go on to report ‘lower than expected’ revenues.

I’m lucky that I work at a place with a progressive view of data, especially with the way we use our Ventures program.

But in addition to that, I work with an amazing data specialist.

She’s cheeky sod who is a bloody legend.

Not just for what she does but for what she pushes.

A believer in the role of culture not just habits.

But another part of her skill is that she knows what data does and what data doesn’t.

Data guides.

It heavily suggests.

It shines a light on important and essential behaviours.

It forces discussions about how best to approach situations.

But it rarely is undisputed, unquestionable, always certain, fact.

To be honest, I believe most people in the marketing field of data knows this but – as is the case with most things in marketing – we go around talking in certainties in an attempt to raise our professional standing when all it does is the opposite.

Hey, I get it, we see it being done in so many fields – from government to finance – but that still doesn’t mean it makes people believe what we’re saying, it just makes us complicit.

The reality is society is far smarter than we give them credit for. The only reason they let so much of this rubbish pass is because they literally don’t care what we say. They have seen so many facts that turned into fiction that they view what we do as literally a game … which is why, while data and strategy still play an important part in making creativity that helps brands move forward, the most powerful differentiator between ideas that culture sees and culture give a shit about is how interesting, intriguing and exciting it is.



When Y&R Had A Point To Prove …

Y&R is over.

Of course, the powers-that-be say they’re merging, but really they’re over.

This is sad for me.

Not just because I spent 4 years of my life with them and did some stuff I’m proud of with people I still respect hugely … from SONY to VB to Schweppes [the ad is here as it’s gone from the post] … but because there was a time where they really took a stand, both in terms of what they stood for and what they did.

Recently I found an ad they did for themselves …

Yes, you can argue it’s a bit dodgy, but apart from the novelty of seeing an agency practicing what it preaches [accepting an agencies work should be the best ad it does for itself] it’s interesting to see them celebrating how technology [read: data] and emotion [read: creativity] sit side-by-side in their company.

Sure, it doesn’t say what the computers at Y&R actually do.

They hint it finds valuable ‘audience stuff’, but for all I know, they might have actually been used to just type and/or design their ads on … but it’s the first thing I can remember where an agency proactively talked about the coming together/tension between data and creativity.

Of course it’s nowhere near as good or provocative as their 1965, Backbone ad [again, for themselves], but it is nice to see an agency have a point of view, which – ironically – is the very thing they stopped doing which contributed to them ending up as the back end of VML.



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 …



You Can’t Change The Future If You Judge Them By The Old Rules …

So a few weeks ago I went to the premiere of the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody.

But it was more than that … I went with my best mate Paul and was surrounded by 6000 Queen fans, the band and the actors from the film.

It turned a movie into a wonderful celebration of an amazing band.

To be honest, while Rami Malek is amazing as Freddie – as is Gwilym Lee as Brian May – the atmosphere from the audience was better than the movie.

To be honest, it was always going to be that way, but as a piece of my personal history – including the re-enactment of so many concerts where I was actually there – it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

Of course this movie is not going to change the opinion of anyone who wasn’t a Queen fan already. And even for them, it’s not going to tell them anything you didn’t already know … but what the movie has done is get the media to conversations with people who were part of the Queen history that previously, had rarely said much about it.

One of them is fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

She was the person behind the look that – in many ways – defined Freddie and the story she tells in the interview is wonderful, especially the bit where she describes him as a ‘hidden revolutionary’.

Of course she is referring to him in this way because back then, Queen was just starting out, because the idea of Freddie Mercury ever being hidden is quite amusing.

But that is the thing we often forget … that new is always going to be uncomfortable and yet we judge those with new ideas by the standards of the established. Literally trying to kill new thinking before it has a chance to even catch light.

And that’s why we all need to be more open to the unknown and the unexpected.

See where it could take us before we tell it where we want to take them.

Because when we hear people or companies say they want to be like NIKE, APPLE, Freddie Mercury or countless others we forget that to get there took time, patience and letting go … of the old rules, the old expectations and the old answers.



Service Without The Script …

I’ve written a lot about customer service over the years.

Or specifically, bad customer service.

And the ironic thing is the worst examples tend to be organisations who literally say they’re in the ‘service industry’.

I suppose that’s why I loved how Claridge’s hotel train customer service to their staff – especially their belief in moments of stubbornness – because while they set incredibly high standards and ways to deal with situations, they always leave room for their staff to act in ways they feel is in their guests best interests … even if their guests don’t realise it yet.

And for me, that’s where customer service becomes it’s most powerful.

Where it moves from service to care.

Not just in terms of the obvious things, but reading between the lines.

Where it goes beyond just anticipation, but true consideration for the other party.

In many ways, it’s the ultimate demonstration of loyalty …

Not expecting it from your audience and instead, providing it to them in return.

Proof that they matter.

Proof that they care.

Proof they need each other.

Recently I saw an amazing example of this.

Surprisingly it came from a Chief Executive Officer.

More surprisingly, it came from a Chief Executive Officer of a football club.

And even more surprising than that, it came from the the youngest Chief Executive Officer in the entire football league.

Now to be fair, it’s the CEO of Barnsley Football Club … a club that is known for how much it values its community and fans.

But even that doesn’t quite capture what Gauthier Ganaye – the Barnsley CEO – did.

Read the letter below … then next time you’re with a client who talks about customer service or social listening, show them it and ask them how they’re going to demonstrate how much they value their audience, rather than just saying it in their corporate mission statement.

_______________________________________________________________________

PS: For the record, he – nor Barnsley – promoted this, the receiver was the one who made sure this act of loyalty, compassion and service got to a bigger audience.



Happy At Home …

So it’s 2 months since we’ve been back in England and I have to say it’s been great.

Sure, the weather isn’t like LA.

Sure, finding a home and unpacking was a pain-in-the arse.

Sure, catching the tube is not like driving my beloved Audi to work.

Sure, I’m shocked at how bad the service is in restaurants and how many people smoke.

But all that aside, things are great.

There’s a bunch of reasons for that …

The first is my family are all together and well. Even Rosie, the moaning cat.

Seeing how brilliant Otis has adapted to his new environment [again] is inspiring, even though it has highlighted how much of an American twang he picked up in our time in the US.

To move home is a traumatic experience for anyone.

To move countries is often too much for people to even contemplate.

So to have moved home and country, 3 times when you’re only 3 years of age – and still be happy, positive and curious – is an incredible achievement and one that makes me even prouder of my wonderful little boy.

That said, we’re very mindful he is still trying to find where he belongs … find other kids he can form a connection with … so our job in these early months is to help him feel as settled and secure as we can, but so far, he’s handling it far better than we could ever hope, even though he did exactly the same when we landed in LA after Shanghai.

What a kid.

Another reason we’re enjoying things in England is that there’s an incredible familiarity to how things work.

Sure I’ve not lived here for 24 years and Jill is Australian … but we both have spent a huge amount of time here over the years so there’s a comfort in knowing how to make things happen. It’s allowed us to acclimatise to the new environment far quicker than we have in other nations while still feeling the buzz of excitement of being somewhere new.

Sure, there’s nervousness about some things we’ve never/rarely had to deal with before.

The school system and how insane that is here.

The inability to be confident a tradesman will turn up as promised.

The high price of public transport [which is still low, but comparatively high to say, China]

But all that is offset with the incredible culture that surrounds us, the friendliness of the people we’ve met and just being in a place where we can see ourselves for a good length of time.

Oh, and chips, mushy peas and gravy.

God, that’s magic right there.

But one other thing that has made things so great is work.

I’m really enjoying myself.

I have an incredible team full of smarts and opinions.

I have a huge array of colleagues full of creativity and provocation.

I have a bunch of clients full of fascinating challenges and ambitions.

I’m learning.

I’m being challenged.

I’m [hopefully] contributing.

There were a bunch of reasons why we moved countries – both personal and professional – and while no place will ever be perfect, I’m pretty shocked at how much I am enjoying being back in England given I never thought I’d ever move back.

I still wish I could nip up to Nottingham to see Mum and Dad.

I still wish Paul and Shelly lived down the street not 2 hours away.

But as much as I’ll always be a cynical bastard, I’m pretty happy right now and I’m sure that is as shocking to you as it is to me.

So on this bombshell of positivity, I wish you a good weekend and let you know that the APSOTW results will finally be out next week.

Ta-ra.