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


Appetite For Destruction … The Advertising Edition

So I had a lovely time in Spain and now I’m ready to go hit Cannes.

I haven’t been there for over 12 years and I have to be honest, I’ve been very very OK with that.

While I have always enjoyed the talks they have, the other stuff has driven me nuts.

Pretending to be rockstars. Acting like animals. Just demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness.

Of course not everyone is like that and it’s always nice to catch up with old friends from around the World, but in my experience, I saw far too many people who were cliches of the industry so I am hoping with all my heart that has disappeared in my time away.

What I am looking forward to is the presentation we are giving on behalf of WARC.

As you know, the wonderful Mr Weigel and I started a planning school about a year ago.

While not a huge amount has happened, it is happening and the lovely/stupid [delete as appropriate] people at WARC invited us to give a talk about dangerous strategy.

To be honest, it’s quite a big subject to cover in 45 minutes so we’re going to focus on why every strategy needs more chaos in it.

Within this subject there will be all manner of unpacking. From the need to spend time in the real world, to the ridiculousness of what brand owners think passes for insight to why being interesting is literally the new right.

I hope it will be enjoyable for the people attending – I know Martin won’t disappoint – but it’s a great honour for me to be doing a project with probably the best planner in the biz right now … at the most prestigious event in the ad calendar …. with an organization dedicated to helping make smarter work rather than just smarter decks.

Then again, if they all agreed to be publicly associated with me, maybe they’re not as smart as we all think they are.

That, or Martin is doing it to use me as the physical manifestation of chaos.

Devious sod.

Come and say hi if you’re there or avoid me like the plague.

Back posting rubbish on Friday.

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When Is An Orange A Lemon?

So as you read this, I’ll be on a plane to Portland …

While this is good news for you as I’ll be away the whole of the week, it’s terrible news for my friends at NIKE and Wieden+Kennedy as I’ll be poking my head in their lives and business for the next 5 days.

To help everyone either celebrate or commiserate over this news, let me leave you with a very short post.

I saw the above ad on the underground recently …

What. The. Fuck?

I get it’s a nice looking razor … I get some people may even want to buy it because it’s a nice looking razor … but what the hell is the point of that copy?

Seriously, what are they trying to achieve with it?

In advertising, there is a phrase called ‘see say’ … where the copy, or voice over, explains what’s being shown, despite the fact that in the main, the person looking at the communication can see perfectly well what it is.

I’ve never understood why it continues to happen – just like I’ve never understood why people do presentations then read exactly what’s on the screen – but this ad is taking things to a whole new level, or should I say depth.

What pains me more is that Boots originally were a Nottingham company so I feel some sort of responsibility to their actions and behaviours … even though they’re no longer English and quite frankly, my attitude is more mental than sentimental.

What next, fruit ads that have copy explaining the fruit you’re looking at what its colour is?

If our industry is about helping brands resonate with culture, our work seems to suggest we’re either saying people are stupid or brand managers are.

Good job I’m going to hippyville so I can calm down before I explode.

See you in a week … where it will only be 2 days till my birthday.

[Hint Hint]



Consolation Prize …

I have talked about my love of Martin Parr before, which is why you can imagine my excitement when I thought I was going to pull off the ultimate collaboration between him and my side project with the masters of metal.

For absolutely fair reason, it sadly didn’t come off, but I did get a nice gift as a way of thanks … which ironically, makes me only wish it had worked out even more.

When I pitched the idea, I was asked why I thought it was a good idea.

I said I didn’t, I just thought it was interesting and sometimes, that’s all we have to go on.

The best thing with working with people who only think creatively is they totally get that … that sometimes, the intrigue of an idea is more important than the actual outcome – even if it ends up not being what you quite hoped.

I get why we all look for certainty in what we do. There’s a lot riding on it … money, employment, business … but the problem with certainty is that it is built on compromise and convenience, where the outcome is safe rather than alive.

It’s why Martin’s Weigel’s wonderful case for chaos is such an important read.

I have long been an advocate of this approach.

While it can scare people, the reality is chaos can create what order can’t and when we are all looking for ways to infect, infiltrate and shape culture, the best way to do it is to offer them something they find interesting and resonant, rather than boring and right.



The Many Faces Of Beautiful …

I’ve written how mental Gucci have been in the past few years in both their fashion and their marketing – though on this last point, it’s been quite refreshing from the up-itself-image-bollocks the fashion industry tends to perpetuate.

However I recently saw an ad for their lipstick that is making me think they’re doing more than just trying to superficially differentiate from the competition.

Yes brands like Dove have celebrated ‘real beauty’ before – though they also sold skin whitening products so you know that their intentions for female empowerment are not entirely true – but it’s rare for a high end fashion brand to do such a thing, especially in such dramatic fashion.

You see even though Dove celebrated women of all shapes and sizes, they tended to all be classically beautiful … however here is Gucci, doubling own on celebrating the beauty of the imperfect by showing what my American friends would say is a ‘British smile’.

We will have to see if they are truly going to push this agenda but in an industry so superficial they can make a puddle look like an ocean, this is a step in the right direction in helping women celebrate their own beauty, not someone else’s definition of it.



Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.



When You Don’t Even Have To Try, You Should Still Try …

One of the places I find most hysterical in the World is San Francisco.

Yes … the entire place.

I find it hysterical because it’s often referred to as a liberal, hippy paradise when the reality is it’s one of the most expensive, exclusive and divisive places on earth.

Of course it wasn’t always this way, but the rise of tech has seen so much money coming into the place, that not only is everything hideously expensive, but the service industry – something America was once famous for – has seemingly given up making any effort whatsoever, safe in the knowledge they’re going to get people giving them money for stuff regardless.

No where is this attitude more prevalent than the hotel industry.

Because there are so many people coming into the place – hotels are almost always full.

What that’s resulted in, is even crappy hotels charging rates plush places in LA would balk at.

Case in point, the hotel I stayed in – The Taj – cost more for 1 night than the 2 nights I stayed at the Ritz Carlton at Marina Del Rey.

Which had a water view.

And breakfast included.

What I got at the Taj, was this …

Now I used to have Taj Hotels as a client.

I know their history and the way they approach their business.

Thanks to the Silicon Valley goldrush … the Taj San Fran doesn’t embody any of them.

In fact, I would say the only thing it’s suitable for, is a Martin Parr photo assignment.

For those who don’t know the brilliant Mr P, he is a photographer who specialises in brilliantly capturing the utterly mundane … usually in Britain.

With that in mind, I’ve written him a letter, dedicated to the experience I had at the Taj SF.

Dear Martin Parr.

If you’re looking for inspiration on what – and where – your next photo project could be, may I suggest The Taj Hotel in San Fran.

Not only does it have the depressingly bland interior design qualities of 1980’s middle England that I know you love love, but it comes with the price tag of a modern of Russian Oligarch.

Even when I came back to the room at 2:30am – after a long day at the office – I was reluctant to sleep there, for fear the rundown averageness of the place would do me irreparable damage in the night.

It is a photo exhibition waiting to happen.

Possibly your finest ever.

I even have a name for the shot … Expensive Beige.

You’re welcome.

Rob



Signs You Know You’re In Italy …

So as you all know, I recently lost my Aunt and so travelled to Italy for her funeral.

On my return back to England – now with an ability to see through the tears – I realized there were many things in Italian cultural context that really reflected some of the unique values of the place.

From the signage that appeared on the aircraft hangers at Milan airport …

[yes, a bloody aircraft hanger]

… through to the stylish [at least comparatively to the UK equivalent, on the left] of their toy ‘play people’.

There is something so effortlessly stylish over there, proven by the fact things that shouldn’t work on paper, somehow do.

Now many would say that is the power of confidence, but I think it’s more than that.

I think the beauty of the Italian culture is their ability to be comfortable with being authentic.

Of course there’s exceptions … and yes, I’m definitely being generalistic … but there’s a wonderfulness in how much people seem to believe a successful life is more about how you live rather than what you have.

Or how something makes you feel rather than what it makes someone think about you.

Which is why I find Italian beaches are the happiest beaches because the undercurrent of competitiveness and social judgement that often infiltrates other countries sand and sea just isn’t there. Instead, there feels a common spirit of ‘happy contentedness’ … where the simple act of being in a place with people you love is embraced and enjoyed by all.

And when everyone loves and respects everyone else for living with that authenticity, then things like body shape and beach fashion just don’t really come into it … because at the end of the day, you’re not trying to impress others, you’re just comfortable being yourself.