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


The Fine Line Between Victory And Vulgarity …

Let me start by saying I have a lot of respect for Charles and Maurice Saatchi.

What they did … the legacy they created … is, even now, amazing.

Their agency was responsible for so many of the ads that went on to define my childhood – both in good and bad ways – however, as I got older and entered the industry, I started to understand just how audacious they were in terms of what they thought the ad industry could be. And do.

Back then, their mantra was ‘Nothing Is Impossible’.

And they certainly lived up to it.

But while this led to some truly incredible work, it also led to the brothers ultimate downfall when they tried – amazingly and brilliantly – to buy Midland Bank.

There have been many reasons written about why their plan didn’t work out … and what happened subsequently … but I have to say, I’d imagine working for them at the time – with their sheer confidence, swagger and ambition – would have felt pretty intoxicating.

However this post isn’t about that, it’s about what happens when, in your quest to keep moving forward, you lose your values or self awareness and end up being a caricature of what you once were.

I’ve seen it happen.

I once worked with an advertising great who ended up believing everything they did was great, simply because they did it.

It didn’t take long before they were phoning in their work.

Not caring about what was going on around them.

Saying whatever they wanted because they believed whatever they said was wanted.

It was pretty tragic and I remember a very horrible conversation between us, where I said he had become the beast he had been obsessed with slaying.

It didn’t go well for me.

And, within a year, it didn’t go well for him … when his deluded arrogance took a step too far and his actions and behaviors couldn’t be ignored any longer.

Nowadays I occasionally see him spouting racist shit about immigration and foreign workers, which I find even more shocking given he spent so many years living across the World, not to mention – if rumours are to be believed – doing unspeakable things with certain people when he was in Asia.

But this isn’t a post about an old, short-lived, delusional colleague – nor it is to suggest the Saatchi brothers are anything like my old, delusional colleague … however this is about the moment [at least for me] when the Saatchi brothers revealed they may have not grown with the times, but were lost in old times.

This.

It was early Jan, 1990.

Saatchi was – I believe – the biggest agency in the World.

And the World was changing.

The party of the 80’s was over and everyone was trying to work out what the next decade had in store. One thing that had already started to happen was the fall of communism.

Protests had been happening throughout 1989 and they continued to gain momentum when, in November of that year, The Berlin Wall – a symbol of Communist/Western ideals – fell.

And it was on that wall Saatchi had placed that ad.

Not on the Western side, but the Eastern.

It wasn’t up for long, but they paid to have it there.

A way of showing their mantra.

An act of deliberate provocation for shock value.

An attempt to keep the spirit of 80’s excess alive.

A claim it was welcoming East German’s to independence and choice.

But the problem was, it wasn’t the 80’s anymore and so it came off as an act of commercial vulgarity. An act of cynical shamelessness to try and capture the headlines. And suddenly, the agency that could do no wrong suddenly went from being audacious to trying too hard.

Or said another way, Saatchi’s were trying to hold on to the past rather than lead the future.

Can you imagine an agency doing that now?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of them out there that have a complete lack of self awareness … not to mention another bunch whose entire business model appears to be ‘doing things first’ … regardless of its value to culture, creativity or commerce … however I doubt even those guys would think doing this would be a good idea today.

Or at least I hope not.

And that’s why I believe a positioning is not as good as a point of view.

Because positioning’s are set in stone.

They don’t move with the times … they stand firm, shouting their same tune regardless of what is going on. But a point of view is different. There’s flex in that. It lets you express what you believe, but how you express it is shaped by what is going on around it.

There’s longevity in a point of view.

There’s resonance in a point of view.

There’s less need to shock, because you always speak what others are trying to say.

Saatchi’s continue to do great work.

Saatchi’s continues to be filled with great people.

But I’ll always wonder what they could have been if they’d not crossed the line from audacious to caricature.

You can read the story of the Berlin Wall ad, here.



When You Only Serve Those Above You, You Become The Enemy Of Those Around You …

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer.

I was OBSESSED with becoming a police officer.

I read books. I talked to the coppers on the street. I looked up to them literally and metaphorically.

And while I absolutely believe the Police do an important job that is often undervalued, I also think the system they are made to operate in encourages behaviour that is not representative of the values and standards we have all been told they follow.

That is not a justification for wrongdoing – if they do the crime, then they should experience the full force of the law with absolutely no leniency whatsoever – however as police wrongdoing is happening on such a consistent basis all around the World, it does suggest the environment they are being asked to work within, is contributing to the situation in some way.

Which is why I found this comment on twitter interesting …

Now, I would imagine it was said with mischief in the eye … but there is truth in it.

Because where the Police are supposed to protect us, they have evolved into something that often feels more about controlling us … often for the good of the wealthy or the powerful.

I can’t imagine how difficult the job is … it must be a thankless task, especially with government leaders encouraging them to execute aggressive action rather than community integration … but something is obviously broken deep within.

Are all Police bad?

Of course not, just like criminals don’t follow the cultural or economic stereotypes the media, government and white people like to present us with.

And while blaming individuals or entire groups of people may make us feel better … safer … superior … more in control … the reality is so much of what goes on is because of the systemic and institutionalised systems so many people have to live and work within. Until that is accepted, investigated and fundamentally changed – rather than brushed aside as some sort of ‘liberal nonsense’ – we’re going to continue experiencing this pain, and quite frankly too many people have needlessly died and too many families have been needlessly destroyed to not accept there is a problem.

However much that puts the people in control in fear.

However much that shines a light on what we’ve all been complicit in creating.

However much that means governments become scared of the people rather than vice versa.



Our Purpose Is To Kill You …

Hello!

Yes, I’m back.

And yes, we’re in our new home.

Hell, we’ve almost totally unpacked.

Emphasis on ‘almost’.

We’ve also had more conversations with the people in the village in the last few days than we had with everyone in London, combined.

Friendly is very weird.

I remember when we lived in LA, the neighbours came and brought us ‘welcoming gifts’.

That freaked me out big time.

Fortunately England doesn’t allow for that level of intimacy, so we just had to make do with polite and interested conversation.

Anyway, I want to start the week with a post about this …

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Kraft/Heinz new product push.

Mac and cheese for breakfast.

BREAKFAST!!!

Their rationale for it is apparently that they found 56% of busy parents serve their kids Mac & Cheese for breakfast.

Now I appreciate I don’t know all the facts, but I’m calling bullshit on this.

Part of that is because I am pretty sure cereal and milk or toast is faster than making Mac & Cheese. The other part is that 56% figure lacks any context … in terms of the number of ‘busy parents’ that were asked and where.

David Lin, a friend of mine, suggested the marketing meeting went something like this:

“We can drive growth by building more occasions … we need to own breakfast”

Given the share price collapse of Heinz in recent years, I think he is bang on.

But there’s something else this news highlights.

This Kraft/Heinz brand purpose reads as this …

As a global food company, the Kraft Heinz Company’s ambition is to help end hunger worldwide.

Unless they believe the best way to achieve their purpose is to kill people with obesity, then it suggests here’s another example where brand purpose is utter shit … designed to make the board feel better about what they do without actually having to do it.

Or said another way, Martin was right. As usual.



When McKinsey Turns You Into An Influencer, You Get To Feel Your Privilege, Not Just Experience It …

So a few weeks ago, I saw a tweet that asked about ‘most awkward’ presentation.

Given I’d just read a terribly superficial [and out-of-touch] document they’d written on China, it reminded me of something that happened with me and McKinsey in China a few years ago.

So I wrote this:

As soon as I posted it, I knew it had hit a nerve as my phone was continually buzzing – but whereas it normally stops after about 4 seconds, this carried on. In fact it got more intense. So intense in fact that within 48 hours, it had achieved this:

22,000 likes.
5,500 retweets
300+ comments

In addition to that, I got contacted by people in the US, Mexico and China who said I had set off a vibrant debate in their respective countries via their respective versions of Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter.

Hell, I even got contacted by Consulting Humour [which is apparently ‘a thing’] who wanted to post it.

MADNESS.

But what’s even more mad is that almost everyone who commented was nice to me.

Even the people who disagreed with what I’d written.

And yet, despite all that, I found it overwhelming … like being in a car that’s on the edge of going out of control.

It got so uncomfortable that I had to delete my Twitter for a few hours so I could catch my breath.

But what was obvious was a lot of people have a lot of issues with McKinsey and consultancies as a whole.

The main issue seemingly being they get paid a fortune for their advice but don’t have to take any responsibility for what they recommend.

This was the message a huge range of people working in a huge range of industries said … from small businesses to multinationals to entrepreneurs to ex-McKinsey consultants.

Now I am under no illusion that McKinsey won’t give a shit about what I said – and I don’t blame them – but I do think they should be a bit nervous that an innocuous tweet could create such a shitstorm of commentary and engagement.

However on the off-chance that last sentence encourages the McKinsey lawyers to come after me, I should point a few things:

1. The talk I referred to in the tweet was not a presentation claiming advertising was better than consultancy. It wasn’t even about advertising … more about how cultural innovation can achieve more distinctive brand growth and business optimisation. I think.

2. And while it looks like I pissing on the value of consultants, I wasn’t. I accept, in the right situation, they offer incredible benefits to business … however, when they have no skin in the game – or are offering analysis on cultural behaviour without ever actually interacting in culture – then the effect of their advice can be called into question.

3. But most of all, while I was a cheeky shit in the presentation I gave in Shanghai all those years ago … I definitely said it with a twinkle I the eye and the audience knew that … rather than looking at me thinking I was purely an antagonistic bastard.

Emphasis on ‘purely’.

So while this viral situation was an interesting adventure, I learnt something even more valuable than ‘consultancies’ are the silver bullet to influencer status.

I’m not talking about the grudging respect I might have gained for social media influencers.

Nor the fact I am worried so many people aspire to be one, without maybe realising the mental anguish they will face and the pressure they will place on themselves to perform even better.

No, it’s this …

There are so many people out there who face abuse, judgement and prejudice just for being who they are.

Not just in social media, but in every aspect of their lives.

I can’t imagine having to deal with that level of scrutiny … hell, I couldn’t even deal with 2 days of it and my experience was good.

This not only highlights their strength, but also my privilege.

Of course I knew I had that – but this situation helped me understand it in a way I could feel rather than just understand.

I honestly think it would be worth every white, middle class person to experience … especially the Karen’s of this World, who have the audacity to claim being in their comfortable homes to protect them from catching a deadly virus is equivalent to slavery.

You think I’m making that last bit up don’t you?

I know, it sounds utterly insane to think that could be true.

But in America, insane is often normal.



Maybe 2020 Is The Most Important Year …

OK, let’s get the obvious out the way.

Even if 2020 is the most important year, it’s still been a shit year.

But the point being made is a good one.

To be honest, when I first read it, it felt very much like an ad for NIKE.

Taking what we think and forcing us to re-imagine it.

To feel the words rather than functionally jump to conclusions.

And while there may well be a lot of good that comes out of this.

There has been a lot of pain to lead up to this point and then get to this situation.

However as much as many of us probably wish to put all this behind us, it reminds me of something my Dad once told me.

My Dad changed careers quite a lot in his life.

And when I say ‘changed careers’, I mean it.

From the RAF to insurance to a photographer to law.

Fortunately for the family, my Mum was much more stable … hahaha.

But one day I asked my Dad why he did it … why he didn’t just change job, but dramatically and radically changed industry, even if it meant he had to retrain and re-qualify.

And he gave me the best answer I’ve ever heard.

It went like this:

“I love you and your Mum. If I’m going to spend so much time away from you every single day day, I owe it to you to be doing something I love because nothing would be more insulting than being away from the people I want to spend all my time with, doing something I hate”.

I have always taken that to heart.

Fulfilment over contentment.

It’s what has helped me make decisions that others thought were mad.

It’s behind the jobs I’ve taken, the countries I’ve lived in and the projects I’ve embarked on.

And while there were times it opened up challenges that made me question what I was doing, it always was worth it.

The best things always are.

And while I’ve experienced a fraction of the pain others have had to endure in 2020 – both in terms of the impact it has had on them and the duration it has lasted for them – this is the moment where we need to see change through … to get to the other side rather than try to go back to where we were.

Because on the other side of all this shit, is a chance.

A real, once-in-a-lifetime chance to make things right.

Not just in the US, but everywhere.

Where the systemic and systematic prejudice and racism that is embedded and integrated into our whole way of life is changed.

From education to higher government.

Where people of colour are given the equal rights that the rest of us have enjoyed our entire life.

And let’s be honest, if we do that, we still get the easy job.

There’s people out there who have fought for generations for this moment.

To be seen … heard … noticed … valued.

Which is why we have a moral duty to see this through … to keep fighting to the very end … because nothing would be more disrespectful to the people we say we stand with than walking away at the point we have the chance to make sustainable, effective change.

And if you need any other reason – which you shouldn’t, but just in case – there’s the fact that if we force equality – real, actionable, sustainable equality – into our everyday lives, the people of colour community will lift us all higher.

Take us somewhere better. For absolutely everyone.

Which is why we have to choose fulfilment over comfort.

We over me.

To make 2020 the most important year rather than the worst.