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


If You Think It Would Be Mad, It’s Probably Got Something Going For It …

Before I write today’s post, I want you to listen to something …

Yep, that’s the White Stripes with their now classic, ‘Seven Nation Army’.

I say classic, because it is.

It was recorded in 2002 as a bit of fun and yet now it is deeply entrenched in culture.

Sung at concerts.

Sporting events.

Pubs.

It’s the modern equivalent of Smoke In The Water … the go-to song for any guitarist starting out. [And the nightmare for any guitar shop employee]

But the thing about it that I never realised is that it’s a song without a chorus.

Nothing.

Nada.

It’s deliberate, because one day Jack White liked the idea of – in his own words – “creating a compelling song without a chorus”.

And he did.

A song that will no doubt outlive him because – like Queen’s We Will Rock You – is a simple, repetitive riff that allows audiences to not just join in, but be an integral and active participant in the music.

When you look at the ad industry, while we have evolved from talking AT audiences, our version of audience involvement is still largely based getting them to be an extension for what we’re doing rather than be an integral part of it.

Now of course, I get an audience doing stuff for a band they love is very different to getting people who are mildly interested in a brand, to do something for us … but the main point here is we are not pushing any boundaries right now.

Oh of course there’s agencies constantly pronouncing they have just executed a ‘world first’, but apart from the fact it’s often just a slight variation of something that has previously been around, it’s almost always done to benefit the agencies and clients ego and no one else.

But where is the bolder stuff?

The writing a compelling song without a chorus stuff?

If adland was about writing music, you can bet EVERYTHING would have a chorus.

It would also probably be a pop-song, 3 minutes long [MAX], as simplistic as they can make it and designed to be so palatable as to not offend a soul.

It would be this song …

Hell, even Matt Beaumont thought so in his brilliant book, E.

OK, I’m being a bit mean because its not like there aren’t some agencies doing amazing pieces of work using the ‘traditional’ model not to mention those who are genuinely trying to push the boundaries of what creativity can be – and do – for clients, like this brilliant Planned Parenthood campaign we did at R/GA recently … but in the main, the focus is not about breaking new ground it’s about treading carefully over the old.

Look, I get it … this stuff costs a lot of money.

There’s a bunch riding on it.

But where this ‘minimum risk’ approach fails is when brands talk about wanting to make a big impact in culture … something that powerfully differentiates themselves from the competition … an idea that change attitudes and behaviour … because the most effective way to increase the odds of this happening is to literally do something that runs counter to traditional norms.

An airport lounge that is modelled on a Rock Stars house.

An electric car with an insane button.

A ravioli where the pasta disappears.

An ad that talks about failure.

Now I know what you’re thinking, most companies will never do that.

And you’re right.

But what I find amusing is that we all know doing the same as everyone else produces, in the main, even less chance of breakthrough success than walking into the unknown or unexpected.

The harsh reality is that while many companies talk about breakthrough … innovation … provocation … what they really mean is – at best – being a degree or two better than their competition or – at worst – simply playing catch-up

Or as Lee said, they confuse innovation with modernisation.

And while I know there is a lot of talent in our biz – talent who use creativity to create incredible ways to either deal with old problems or create new normals – we are in danger of letting ourselves just become executioners of clients transactional requirements, and if that happens, we lose any chance of regaining/retaining our seat at the boardroom table. Because in my experience what the best C-Suite want aren’t companies who simply execute their requirements, but those who see the World differently to them, so they can help them get to places in ways they never imagined possible.

In other words, creative people with commercial appreciation rather than commercial people with creative appreciation.

Now the problem is we live in times where the money men value consistency more highly than boldness … which is ironic given they them place them under immense pressure to keep finding new ways to grow, transform and unlock new revenue streams.

An oxymoron if you will.

Which, for me, highlights 3 things.

1. Independence is power.

2. As Martin and I talked about at Cannes last year, chaos can achieve what order can’t.

3. The only things worth doing are the ones that can break your heart.



Marcus Brown …

For all the shit I get on this blog, it has served me well.

I’ve learned things.

I’ve been put right on things.

I’ve learned my view on things can drastically change over the years.

But one thing I treasure most of all – even more than the daily abuse I cop – is how this blog has brought new people into my life.

One of those is Marcus Brown.

I’ve known Marcus for over 10 years.

It all started when he stupidly wrote a comment on this blog.

And while I’ve only ever met him once – last year – we have talked a lot via email and video.

I think he would agree that we have both experienced some personal highs and lows over the years we have known each other – because life works like that – but through it all Marcus has kept me entertained and on my toes with his infectious, brilliant, madness.

I don’t mean that in a mean way.

In fact, it’s the highest compliment I can give.

Hell, I can’t think of many people who could inspire me to make a crowd of ad students say hello to Sacrum, a character he created or contribute to iPod singing … another idea he brought to life.

Marcus is one of those people, everyone roots for.

He’s creative, dynamic, full of character and compassion … which is why I was so consistently disappointed an industry that talks about valuing creativity consistently overlooked or devalued his talent.

Without going into too much detail, I know this affected Marcus as well.

He had so much he had to offer … so much he wanted to do … but time and time again, his creativity was challenged or questioned. Not from the perspective of wanting to understand things more clearly, but from devaluing what he had to offer.

Which is why the last few years have been so rewarding.

For him … and for me, watching him.

Because Marcus has found his voice … his purpose … his calling.

He proudly calls himself a Performance Artist … because that’s what he is.

Don’t take my word for it, even Forbes – the business magazine – says so.

But not all is quite as it seems.

You see while Marcus is indeed a Performance Artist, he’s also an author.

You see he has written a book called ‘A Wicked Pack of Cards’.

And it’s brilliant.

I’m not saying this because I’m kinda in it [He stupidly asked me to write a review, which is the pic at the top of this post] but because it makes you think, imagine, feel and question.

It’s one of those books that you think about well after you’ve finished it …

I loved it and I fully encourage people to experience it for themselves.

You can buy it here.

Which brings me back to this blog …

You see, by continuously writing my rubbish, I’ve been able to meet and follow people I would otherwise never have known.

In Marcus’ case, I’ve been able to see how life has changed for a talented, kind, generous man. Where once his life was full of challenges, now it is bursting with happiness … from the love of his life to the time of his life … and I can think of few people who deserve it more.

Watching him create, invent, stretch his boundaries and being prolific in his expression is both inspiring and exciting which is why I can’t wait to see what his mind gets up to next.



What You Can Learn About The Danger Of Assumption From The Original Woodstock Festival …

One of the things I do when I first get a brief is try to see the creative opportunity.

Where we can make the biggest and most interesting difference.

Changing something.

Pushing something.

Destroying something.

However the reality is that in many briefs, this isn’t always clear – mainly because so many are written from quite a transactional perspective, designed for an agency to ‘answer it’, rather than use it as a springboard for bigger, more powerful and more sustainable impact.

And that’s why the best thing you can do is ask questions.

Explore.

Prod.

Challenge.

Not just in terms of who authored the brief, but the people who are responsible for what comes out of it.

There are some people who think this approach has the potential of alienating clients, but in my experience it has quite the opposite effect. People in power regard this as a demonstration of someone who gives a shit … someone who wants to help them achieve the best outcome in ways that can best serve their business. Ideas they may simply never have seen or considered before.

And that’s exactly why I do it because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know the level of the clients ambition … their desire for change and impact … and without that you can’t possibly see the creative opportunity you have in front of you and you may go down a path that leads to nowhere because you have made assumptions that simply aren’t true.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need new business to survive – let alone thrive – but my point of view is that if people aren’t excited or clear on what we are looking to do, then it either leads to a painful journey with painful work at the end of it or just mistrust and quite frankly, I haven’t got time for either of those in my life.

So what’s all this got to do with the title of this post?

Because I recently read an article on the famous Woodstock festival and was reminded – from a comment by Tommy James from the band, Tommy James and The Shondells – how dangerous ‘assumption’ can be.

And who is Tommy James from Tommy James and The Shondells?

Well, this might tell you why you haven’t heard of him or them …

Don’t assume the person communicating with you has total clarity on their situation.

Don’t assume the people around you have total clarity on the situation.

Just don’t assume.



How To Get Ahead In Your Career Without Being A Corporate Toady …

I’ve always found management an interesting concept or – more specifically – how people become managers.

Most of the time, it seems someone who is good at their job gets promoted and told “… there you go, manage the department”.

Little support. Little guidance. Masses of responsibility.

Now having done this for a long time, I realize the folly of this approach.

Sure, it’s nice to feel you’re being recognized, have a bit more responsibility and power and get more cash … but it also is the fast-track to bad habits, bad practices and bad career decisions.

You see management is complicated.

On one hand you have to lead your department … set a direction, instill standards and beliefs and develop a gang.

On the other, you have to put yourself second to enable your team – and the people within that team – to grow and develop and ultimately, take your job.

Few have the skills to work this out on their own – let alone execute it – which is why the older I get, the more grateful I am that I was given such great help from my amazing mentors and certain bosses.

You see in the early days, I saw career development as simply going from employee to boss to big boss.

In my mind, if you were a good employee you might get to be a boss and if you were a good boss, you might get to be a big boss.

That was it.

But my mentors – and some good bosses – made sure I understood that career progression wasn’t just about how good you were in your day-to-day job, but in your ability to develop additional skills.

Sure, some of these were operational skills – really important operational skills – but the advice that made the biggest difference to me was when they told me how I’d need to understand the difference between good management and good leadership.

To be honest, previous to this I never really saw a difference between the two but this quote by Peter Drucker sums up what they told me perfectly …

Now I appreciate anyone who has worked with me in the past might think I am terrible at what I do – and I accept my approach is often unorthodox and filled with dollop-loads of chaos – but understanding how the development of skills and outlook was better for your long-term career than consistency and capability made a real difference to me and that’s why I am such a big believer in feedback and goals.

I should point out this does not mean the ‘annual reviews’.

Sure, they have their use, but if you’re only having these conversations once a year, you’re really not helping anyone that much.

But constantly having conversations – where you discuss where people are and what they’re working towards – makes a difference.

It lets you know where everyone is.

It lets you know where everyone is heading.

It gives you the opportunity to offer the right advice at the right time.

Which enables them to develop the skills that will help them grow not drown.

Which lets them develop their own voice and approach to the challenges they face.

Which lets them work out where they are heading and want to head.

Which lets them get hired for who they are not just what they do.

Which means, ultimately, you’ve done what I believe a boss is supposed to do … which is help your people get opportunities they never thought they could have.

This all may seem so obvious to you all, but I still meet people who think being good at their job means being good enough for career progression and while many companies may agree with that, I am so grateful to my mentors and certain bosses for putting me straight.

May this year be your year.



Is Marcus A Devious Bastard?
September 14, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Brand Suicide, Comment, Marketing Fail, Standards, Talent

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Facebook ad Marcus sent me.

It was for some tech support social platform and – alarmingly – featured an illustration that looked very much like me.

As in, it looked EXACTLY like me.

Well either Marcus was behind it or he’s frequenting some very weird places on the net, because he just sent me another one.

Yes, another!

Same company.

Same social platform.

Same – but in a different pose – illustration of me.

WHAT. THE. FUCK?

I know we keep talking about the personalisation of ads, but this is ridiculous.

It also shows an alarming lack of strategy, because anyone worth their salt would know I wouldn’t want to be part of something I’m part of.