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


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.



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 …



Valentine’s Day Is A Moment, But The Future Is Forever …

One of the things that frustrates me is when companies talk loudly and proudly about their ambition but then follow it up with, “but we have to take baby steps to get there”.

The only thing that annoys me more is when agency folk say the work they’ve made isn’t great, but it does, “push the client a bit further than they were before”.

Look, I get it … there are many implications to what we do, but as much as this ‘softly, softly’ approach may sound like it makes sense, it often ends up being counter-productive.

Being slightly better than where you were means nothing if everyone around you is taking huge strides forward.

But of course, just blindly rushing ahead often ends up with people getting burnt … just like planning your progress while constantly looking through the rear-view mirror.

At some point, you have to take a leap.

A step-change from what is known and established to something that changes how you, your audience and your competitors look at what is possible.

For me, this is what innovation truly is about, not micro-improvements designed to keep a company or product up to date with what the category and their competitors are doing.

I get for the company involved, that may feel like a big step – and for them, maybe it is – but it’s not really moving them ahead, it’s just keeping them closer behind the people leading – and owning – change.

To make it worse, culture don’t really care how big a step it was for you, they care about what’s in it for them – so if it’s not done to move them forward, you’re basically putting the ‘no’ in innovation.

So how do you leap forward without falling?

Well, on one level, you can’t.

Innovation of any kind runs the risk of failure … that is inherent to anything that is trying to dramatically move forward.

However you can improve the odds of success.

I’m not just talking about having an open attitude towards failure … where you look at it as a way to learn and progress rather than to lose due to unnecessary risk.

I’m talking about the power of insight.

Insight gets a bad rap these days.

Some of it is because a lot of things people claim are insight are anything but.

However I have been noticing an increase in the number of people using the Henry Ford quote of, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse” … to basically try and undermine the value of insight.

But as I’ve talked about for years, if someone couldn’t tell from that quote that people wanted to get from A-to-B faster than they currently are able to do, then they’re a fucking idiot.

Sure, there is a lot of work to do to get from ‘speed of mobility’ to the creation of the motor vehicle, but the foundation of what people are looking for is right there for all to see.

Or hear.

Contrary to what many say, I personally believe people do know what they want … they just don’t know how to express it.

It might be said in hidden ways.

Or through actions written off as stupidity.

Or via behaviours that push against tradition.

Or with associations that feel random or misunderstood.

Or simply the core of a subculture inventing their own approaches.

It could be anything.

Which is why I believe our job is to listen, explore and investigate … recognize the clues culture expresses through their secret codes so you can work with your creative friends to translate this into something that defines something new.

Creates step change not a degree of change.

Reveals a new possibility rather than remakes something old.

Basically resonates with the speed and direction of culture, rather than tries to be relevant to the present rules.

And while that may indeed still fail or just require a shitload of hard work to evolve the idea into something infectious or – eventually – inevitable, it means you are leading change rather than being shaped because of it, which has the potential to change your future in ways no one could ever imagine.

Of course, the problem is not just that many people claim to want pragmatism but insist on micro-progress based on established behaviours, rules and habits … there’s the issue that some people evaluate something that challenges convention by the standards of what is already in place – ignoring the fact the idea they are evaluating it against has been given literally decades to hone their offering and establish their role.

Or said another way, some people happily kill something before it has been given the chance to be something, because they’re basing it on what they think rather than translating the codes of what culture want.

Like Blockbusters, who passed on Netflix.

Or Nokia who dismissed the threat of the Apple iPhone.

Or VW who basically laughed at Tesla and their electric car.

And while I accept anyone who wants create the future – rather than have it created for them – has a lot of obstacles to jump, there is good news.

Because for those who have competitors who believe progress only comes through refining and optimizing what they already have, they have been given the gift of time to create something that redefines the rules.

Leapfrogs established behaviours.

Create a new set of standards and expectations.

Because the only way to counter money, heritage and distribution is to innovate past it, in the knowledge that you know you’ve found something interesting when everyone feels the impact of your pragmatism …

Like a lightbulb compared to an optimised candle.
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Before I go, to ensure I leave you in the Valentine’s Day spirit, here’s what love is in the modern age – as described by the wonderful Amelia – who DID give me permission to post this, so keep your insults to yourself.

Got to be honest, I’m glad I am married because if I wasn’t, I’d either end up single or in jail.

And yes John, I did say prosperity instead of posterity. Deal with it!



Own Your Truth …

When I was in Sydney at Christmas, I fell ill.

I know you may feel that is karma, but it was pretty shitty.

So after going to the doctors, I went to the local chemist and it is there I saw this …

Proud To Be Cheap.

Words you don’t hear very often.

Either because everyone is trying to come across as ‘aspirational and premium’ or they’re repositioning price to mean ‘smart and discerning’.

And yet, not only did those 4 words stand out from everything else, they made me smile.

It owned its truth.

It said exactly what it was.

It was, quite literally, proud to be cheap.

There is something incredibly refreshing about that.

But more than that, there is something incredibly valuable about that.

Not just because – as I mentioned earlier – it stands out.

Nor is it because it allows them to minimize their investment in store experience.

[Though, the service I got was brilliant, and not just because I was expecting shite]

And not even because by saying it, they rob the competition from trying to diss them for it.

The reason I think it’s valuable is because it immediately feels more inclusive and approachable than so many of the ego brands out there and so attracts a certain sort of customer rather than trying to constantly chase or seduce them.

It’s a bit like Dolly Parton [yes, I’m going there].

She is very self depreciating …

When she said, “It takes a lot of money to be this cheap”, she was proudly owning who she was and accepting her tastes were not what society likes.

OK, so she was talking about her cheapens from the sense she has a lot of money whereas this chemist is talking about themselves from the perspective they don’t cost a lot of money … but owning their truth has immediately separated themselves from the sea of competition.

Years ago I wrote about an approach to strategy that I had which I called unplanning.

I’ve talked about this a lot – from James Blunt to Eminem – but really this about authenticity.

Knowing who you are.

Being true to who you are.

Living by the values that shaped who you are.

And accepting that in a World where brands are often shaped more by what the competition force you to do than what you want to do, by being yourself you will be different.



Something We Should All Remember …

I saw this quote by David Thoreau recently …

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

I have to say I love it because in some ways, it’s the best definition of creativity – and, to a certain extent, strategy – I’ve seen in ages.

Of course our job is to help clients achieve their goals.

Help them succeed in ways that are better than they imagined.

But too much of what we are doing is solving problems laterally rather than literally.

Or worse, simply executing what the client wants.

For me, the best creativity makes people think, feel, question … and to do that, you need people who see the World differently so that they can see what everyone else is just looking at.

Revealing possibility rather than reproducing what everyone already knows.

And doesn’t care about.



Stop Making Excuses …

Two years ago, after a project I started called America In The Raw, I was giving a talk when an attendee – a senior marketing exec – asked how I could help them better understand African American culture.

After pointing out they were asking a WHITE, BRITISH male who had only been living in the country for over a year, I said the best thing he could do was hire some young African Americans and put them in positions of power.

To be fair to him, he was genuinely appreciative and enlightened by my suggestion.

To be unfair to him, it was another example of the oppression people of colour continually face from those who are too blind, ignorant, prejudiced or lazy to stop their ways.

Recently I discovered a friend of mine – who is African American – missed out on a promotion because “there were some concerns over his ability to lead” … despite the fact he has successfully led a team for almost 10 years.

If this industry wants a chance of staying alive then may I suggest we stop obsessively inventing ‘processes, language & proprietary tools’ [that generally ends up making exactly the same work we’ve been making for years or, in some cases, makes it even worse] and start giving talent who doesn’t look, think or act like the incumbent a chance to actually move us forward culturally, creatively and commercially.

Without judgement. Without barriers. Just encouragement and thanks.

Rant over.



Creativity Is About Lateral Leaps, Not Literal Execution …

So while going through my photos, I found this screen grab from Dave Trott …

To be honest, I wrote about this a couple of years ago but if it was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now.

There is more and more work that just seems to be a literal execution of the client brief.

Not even the agency brief … but the clients.

Literal.

Contrived.

Feature focused.

I can’t help but feel their strategy is to bore people into submission, and while it may be argued this approach is working – probably because all the competition are following the same thing – the reality is the value of the brand gets diluted and so the long term success of the brand ends up being based on factors like price or distribution.

Of course, price and distribution always have and always will play a critical role in a brands success, but the inherent value of it is elevated hugely when you are in a position that people actively want it and seek it out. Yet, as I wrote a while back, it appears many brand managers are only focused on sales today without any consideration for the sustainable value of the brand tomorrow and if you are constantly harvesting your good will, eventually it will run out.

The big issue is so many marketers still think people are waiting for them to advertise.

That they are sat on the edge of their seat waiting to hear from them and buy from them.

That they have nothing better to do and all that they do do, is based on rational logic.

This approach says far more about the people behind the brands than the people they hope will buy from them and while I appreciate creativity requires a leap of faith – something some marketing folk weirdly feel is an act of corporate irresponsibility – the fact is society respond to [authentic] emotion far more than rational argument, at least in terms of communication, and so if they want their brand to move forward, the only thing that can counter spend, heritage and distribution is to embrace creativity and to do that properly, it means being Lateral, not literal.