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

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.


Rob Channels Jerry Maguire …

So a while back, someone asked me what I thought made a ‘good planner’.

To be honest, all I really remember is that they caught me on a bad day and so I kind of went on an all-out rant.

By pure chance I recently came across my reply and while I definitely sound a bit of a mentalist – not to mention I miss out talking about a whole bunch of stuff I believe is super-important, like empathy – there was a lot in there that I felt had some value, if only to open a debate about what our discipline is supposed to do and what it can be.

So with that in mind, here I rant …


Planning is one of the most overused terms in the industry these days.

Everyone is now a planner … except in truth, many are either ‘packagers’ – taking the clients info and packing it into easily digestible chunks – or media people who tell you where to put your work based entirely on numbers rather than any true audience understanding.

Now I am not saying those folks aren’t important, of course they are, but for me planning is about ignition to bigger opportunities and possibilities.

For me, a planner understands 3 fundamental things:

+ What the real business problem is.
+ Who the core audience is.
+ What the creative opportunity is.

Those 3 things form the foundation of making things … things that don’t just solve the problem, but help the client have a sustainable position in culture that ultimately makes their marketing work harder for them.

Great planners care about creativity rather than advertising.

Care more about authenticity of a brand rather than marketing of a brand.

Want to uncover why people do stuff rather than just what they do.

It’s not about convenient answers, but ones that really understand the madness of how we all think and do and what we value and believe.

Of course when you’re spending billions of someone else’s money, the temptation to choose convenient, mass-acceptance answers is high and while that can get you results, breakthrough only comes when you resonate with culture rather than just try to be relevant to it.

The un-said.
The hard to explain.
The not easy to hear but it’s true.

It’s for this reason I always tell clients they shouldn’t focus purely on the methodology being used to uncover this stuff … but the person leading it, the people they’re talking to and the questions they are asking.

There’s a reason why a brand like NIKE is still at the top of its game after so long.

Sure, they have ups and downs along the way, but to still have that energy and pull 54 years after they were founded is remarkable.

Of course the biggest part of this is they make great products, have a focus on innovation, have incredible distribution and enjoy the benefits of their market power. But arguably, other companies can lay claim to doing this which is why I believe their ‘secret sauce’ is their commitment to the culture they believe in and are a part of. The culture of the athlete.

Everything they do goes through this lens.


And that’s why their marketing doesn’t follow the usual strategic approaches of looking for ‘white space’ or ‘getting to as broad an audience as possible’, but to have a deep connection to the lives and minds of the athlete so they can bring the lessons to life in the most inspirational, yet deeply authentic way possible.

This approach dictates everything, including how they choose and use their agency partners.

From a planning perspective, I know I placed far more value on someone who has a deep love of sport and creativity than anyone who could talk process or methodologies because for me – and NIKE and Wieden and every other agency on their roster – their job was to inspire great creatives to do something audacious for a client who fundamentally believes in the power of their brand voice and sport.

All this highlights 3 things.

1. Great planning comes from truly understanding the core audience.

2. Great work comes from knowing how to be useful to the creative team.

3. Great brands differentiate themselves by their authenticity and distinctiveness.

I’ve written a lot about differentiation.

While the goal should always be to ensure your clients stands out from their competitors, if the approach is to ‘own’ a position that hasn’t been taken, then ultimately you’re letting your competitors dictate your future rather than deciding it for yourself.

For me, great brands embrace their truth in fresh and exciting ways.

They attract culture rather than chase it because they are the culture, not observers of it.

It means they are always moving forward rather than remaining stagnant.

It means they’re always relevant rather than fighting for it.

Planners play an important part in this.

But only if they remember the work is the key, not the ego.

Create Ideas Not Advertising …

Remember when I was about to leave Wieden and I wrote a post about some of the work I had loved being a part of over the past 7 years?

Remember how I said there were some other campaigns I was super excited about but couldn’t talk about them because they hadn’t come out?

No, I didn’t think you would [dicks!] … but the point of this post is one of those campaigns has just launched and I love it.

There’s so many reasons why it warms the cockles of my heart.

It’s fun.

It’s insanely diverse in its execution.

But most of all, an idea rather than an ad idea.

I’ve talked about this for years. For me, the best thing we can do is identify the problem, create a solution and then use comms to tell as many people as possible about this ‘new thing’. Sadly, the majority of advertising still is based on identifying the problem then spending millions of dollars telling everyone about the problem.

But what is ‘this’, I hear you cry. This …

What you’re looking at are plasters [or, now I’m in America, bandaids] for kids.

They were developed by us for NIKE to celebrate Children’s Day.

5 years ago the reason parents didn’t want their kids to play sport is because they wanted them to study their school books. Fortunately that is less of an issue now [but still an issue] but what we discovered is there’s a new barrier and that is that parents worry their kids will get hurt. This is more than just a physical element – it’s tied up to a whole host of complex issues parents are going through, from not wanting to give them the pressure they went through to also wanting to prepare them for the insane competition they will face in life – but what we saw was an opportunity to enable kids to show their parents that sports makes them rather than hurts them.

So we made a product.

A plaster/bandaid.

A plaster/bandaid that actually isn’t about protecting the injuries kids get from playing sport but a badge of honor for playing the sport they love. A badge of honor that lets their parents know they are being awesome for letting their kids compete and that what they get out of it are far more than bumps and bruises.

We made this product.

We developed a whole range – with the cultural context and vernacular of each specific sport embedded into the design.

Then we created advertising with them. About them.

Billboards that you can take the product from.

Films that talk about the beauty of pure play.

Posters that you can collect and use.

Comic books where the images on the plasters form the story. 

And best of all, Nike had them in their stores.

Lots of them.

For kids to have, use and show their parents.

And best of all, it was real. They made tens of thousands of packets of them.

It’s not scam. It’s solving a problem in the most creative of ways.

And even though they waited till I’d left to launch it, I still love it.

Hell, even Forbes loves it. [Though the article is a bit pants]

So to everyone at Wieden Shanghai, especially the guys who were the real instigators of it [I know who you are] not to mention Steve, Andy and PT at NIKE, congratulations, it’s brilliant and I’m so happy and proud of you.

Only took 7 years … hahaha.

Out Of The Times …
June 22, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Culture, Marketing, Marketing Fail, Positioning, Sport

The Times.

One of the icons of newspapers and journalism.

Not just in the UK, but across the whole World.

Sure, there have been scandals along the way – not to mention the Murdoch ownership – but overall, it is still a paper that commands huge respect which is why I found this recent ad of theirs on Facebook rather baffling.

Yes, I know football is a global sport worth billions of pounds a year.

Yes, I know The Times have a football writer, Henry Winter, that is highly revered.

Yes, I know that Facebook audiences may be more likely to react to a football story than a journalism story.

But …. come on.

It’s the fucking Times.

And while having a global perspectives has never been so important as it is today, I’m not sure football – or Jose Mourinho for that matter – is going to drive the subscriptions they crave, especially when there are so many more topical [and important] issues they could push against … whether that’s the politically motivated movement to promote anything that challenges a claim as false news or even the tragic terrorist events that have taken place in London in the last few days.

While I appreciate the need to broaden your audience base is vital, chasing them never leads to long term success because ultimately you are handing over your destiny to people who could change their allegiance in a heartbeat, especially when there are so many other alternatives all vying for your attention.

As I wrote a while back, if you don’t commit to what you were created for, then how can you ever expect your audience to commit to what you stand for.

How Chinese Business Is Ruining China’s Reputation …

Next week there will be a post about scam advertising.

For those who don’t know what it means, it basically refers to bullshit certain agencies put out in a bid to look creative despite the fact it only runs once [often in some regional market where the cost – and audience – is minute] and the ‘idea’ is done for a client with no money and no chance of ever being able to bring it to market at scale.

But that’s next week, because today I’m going to talk about business scam.

The bullshit certain opportunists do in a bid to ride a commercial opportunity despite bringing nothing new to the table.

And I mean nothing new.

Because they basically steal from those who have done it well before them.

Have a look at this …

You might think that logo looks familiar – and it does – except it isn’t for Under Armour, oh no, it’s for China’s newest sports brand, Uncle Martian.

I kid you fucking not.

But it gets worse than just ‘borrowing’ from UA, they borrow from everyone – NIKE, New Balance, NYC and even Captain bloody America – which you can check out for yourself by clicking here to see images from their launch event.

I hoped China had got past this sort of behaviour.

It seemed like it.

Sure, many were still being ‘inspired’ by other, more successful brands … but whereas once they stopped at duplication, now we were seeing many develop their own innovations, things that moved them from copycats to creators to, arguably, pioneers.

But Uncle Martian have just shown the bad old ways still exist.

The ones who look for shortcuts.

The ones who don’t care about authenticity or quality or individuality.

The ones who do it just because they think they can get away with it.

But what makes it even worse is that this sort of behaviour doesn’t just affect Uncle Martian, but all of China.

What the people behind this copycat brand have done, is give everyone and anyone who mistrusts China, even more ammunition … from Donald Trump to, sadly, a shitload of people from China.

I know the Government have a policy of wanting to keep revenue in the country rather than see it flow out to international brands, but letting this sort of thing happen is hurting them far more than they may imagine.

But worse, it adds another obstacle for young Chinese entrepreneurs to try and overcome, because they will either be prejudiced against by venture capitalists, or told they should be copying rather than creating to drive the quickest return on investment possible.

I know I am not from here, but the launch of Uncle Martian has utterly disappointed me, because frankly China deserves better than this and is way, way, way better than this.

Authenticity Comes In Many Shapes And Sizes. Apparently …
April 18, 2016, 6:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, China, Communication Strategy, Sport

I get a bit pissed off when people say ‘brands have to be authentic’ because it implies some brands choose to be inauthentic, which is plainly bollocks.

I also accept that in these competitive times, you have to think more boldly to try and stand out in a cluttered marketplace.

However, I question whether this move by New Balance China is the best way to demonstrate their brand credentials … unless they’ve discovered that having a [very ambiguous, not to mention very old] association with a member of the British Royal Family is more aspirational to runners than New Balance’s genuine and proven association with millions of athletes.

Of course, given I work with NIKE I may be missing the point.

I can’t wait to read their effectiveness case study.

Operate Yourself To A Better Golf Swing …

So when I was at the hospital a few weeks ago for Otis, I saw this …

Yep, it’s a brochure for the spinal specialists at a Shanghai hospital … a brochure that says your golf swing could be radically improved by their medical intervention.

Now on one level, I find this genius.

I really do.

Whereas most people put up with a bad back, they’ve recognised a group of people who won’t. Or at least could be easily convinced not too.

Not because they care about the state of their spine or their overall health … but because they are competitive. And given playing golf in China means you have to have a ton of cash, the hospital know they’re targeting a group of people who are likely to have the money to pay for it.

In some ways, that’s brilliant ‘audience’ targeting. On the other, it’s pretty sad.

Not just because we have a hospital looking to profit from the vain, but that these people value their sporting prowess more than their overall wellbeing.

That said, I still grudgingly respect what these guys have done – especially when I’ve seen so many client briefs over the years, that say they want to target anyone as opposed to being meaningful to someone.

Which all serves as a valuable reminder that the best brands mean everything to someone not something to everyone.

In other words, they focus on the culture of the category, not purely focused on appealing to the potential users of the category.