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.



It’s Not Very Often You Get To Be At The Start Of Something Incredible …

As many of you know, I love technology.

I also am a huge advocate of talking to people.

Really talking … spending time with them, listening to them, understanding them.

And that’s why I am so happy that I’ve been able to bring both together through a project we’ve being doing at R/GA in London and Tokyo for the last 7 months called Human Technology.

No, I don’t mean the old Nokia saying, I mean literally meeting at the intersection of human curiosity and technological capability.

Over a long period of late nights and long weeks, a group of brilliant colleagues have been developing a new way to talk to people – a way that will allow us to conduct multiple interviews at the same time – enabling, for the first time, to get scalability on the nuance of conversation that I value so highly.

Now I know what you are thinking … this sounds awfully like a focus group and you absolutely, totally, passionately hate focus groups.

And you’d be right … there is a similarity between them.

But the beauty of this is that we are addressing the specific thing I don’t like about the way focus groups are approached.

You see the real issue I have is that focus groups are …. well, focused.

They don’t allow you to understand context … they don’t really care about having an appreciation of the audiences backgrounds or motivations, they just want to get to the answers they need answering.

So it is far less about understanding and far more about efficiency, which means you lose all nuance and authenticity, which is the difference between making work that is resonant with culture and relevant.

OK, it’s not perfect, there has definitely been more than a few occasions where things went a bit weird – similar to the AI Christmas Card experiment we did last year – but I’m over the moon to introduce you to Hans.

Look at him.

LOOK AT HIM.

He’s good isn’t he.

I admit it has taken a very, very long time to get here.

There has been a lot of mistakes, disasters, frustrations and questioning … but Hans [which stands for Human Android Nuanced Screener] is something we are all super excited about.

It’s all very well saying you want to create a new method for revealing insight and nuance, but it’s a very different matter getting there … and that’s why I’m so proud of the team as we’ve had to explore every single detail to get here.

From how we wanted the AI to behave, to what movements the robotics needed to have to feel as ‘human’ as possible … to his look, feel and sound … all in the quest to replicate the energy and aura of a none-threatening, but constantly interested person.

While there is still stuff to go, I think we’re doing pretty well, as the videos below show in terms of how we went from developing realistic hand movement robotics to building a model that allows for realistic human interactions.

[Excuse the terrible music, we’ve done these as part of film detailing the various stages of the project with one of our partners, Mert Arduino]

Creating The Hand

Creating More Human Interactions

The Different Faces Of Hans

Now the sad truth is we won’t be able to finish this to the level we want on our own.

For all the talent in the building and the network … time, technology and cost are all a hindrance to seeing this through to how we envision it can end up, which is why we are going to open this up to the creative technologists around the World, in the hope they want to be part of this project and see where they can help it go to.

Of course, few will do this without some sort of benefit, which is why I’m so happy to announce that anyone who takes part will have an ownership % so that if the technology takes off, they will directly profit from it.

We will soon be announcing how to get involved – as well as issue all blueprints and coding that we have already created to allow people to quickly add to the project rather than do things that have already been create – or we would if this wasn’t April 1st and a total load of bollocks.



There’s A Reason There’s Called Unicorns …

So did you get over your first day back at work?

What was worse … that, or this blog restarting.

Yeah … thought so.

Well I have some good news, because as you read this, I’m on my way to Shanghai.

And there’s better news … this means there won’t be any posts till Friday.

How good is that, 2 days into 2020 blogging and already you’re having a break.

But don’t get too happy, remember I said I would be back on Friday.

So back to those unicorns.

And more specifically, why Wall Street investors like to label certain dot.com companies with that moniker.

Well the answer is easy, because they don’t exist … at least not in the way they claim.

Especially when held under a microscope.

Think about it …

Evernote.

Theranos.

And then WeWork.

Mind you, given how much one of the founders walked away with – despite highly questionable practices, including copyrighting then selling to the company the word ‘we’ – there is definitely a reason why some people are called white collar criminals.

And they say crime doesn’t pay …

See you Friday.

Enjoy the early days of peace.



Argos Is Christmas …

When I was younger, I discovered the ‘Argos’ catalogue.

It was at my Grandparents house and it was a bloody revelation.

For those who don’t know what Argos is, imagine Amazon.com before Amazon.

A place where you can buy a huge array of products, all of which were featured in an annual catalogue which you could take home and peruse at your leisure.

[It’s also famous for little pens – now pencils – that you would have to use to fill in the forms to get the products when you went into the store. Pens/pencils that I would say everyone in England has ended up keeping at some point in their lives]

But for me, it only had 2 uses …

1. To get a glimpse at the future of technology.

2. To choose what I really, really wanted for my birthday/christmas.

Every time I visited my grandparents, I would run to where they kept the Argos catalogue and spend hours going through all the pages, gazing lovingly at digital watches, calculators, the emergence of hand held ‘electronic’ games and – eventually – computers.

Every year the catalogue came out, I would be see the advances of tech in front of my eyes.

But more than that, for the right money – I could have it.

Of course I – nor my parents – had the right money except maybe at Christmas, but a boy could dream … and boy did I.

I still remember the excitement the first time I saw Astro Wars … a handheld version of the video game Galaxian

It was like the impossible dream.

A full sized video game shrunk into a small box.

What sort of weird wizardry was this???

I still remember how a bunch of us at school saw it at the same time and we all knew it was the ‘must have’ present for the year.

I was incredibly lucky to get it that year … and while it was a bit crap, I still utterly loved it because to me, that was cutting edge tech.

[As an aside, I just discovered it cost £28 in 1980 – the equivalent of £100 today, so I am utterly gobsmacked I got it given my parents would have had to have saved up for months to afford that. So thank you Mum and Dad, I never realized it was that pricey]

Anyway, the reason I say all this is that Argos have recently digitized all their old catalogues.

And while you may ask yourself, “why?” and “why would anyone care?” you’d be wrong … because if you’re a person of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was not a book of products available for purchase, it was a place of imagination and possibilities and while the stuff inside the late 70’s/early 80’s catalogues are full of the sort of tat even a ‘Everything for £1’ store, would turn their noses up at, looking through them all again, I can honestly say it ignited the excitement I had back then.

Truly.

And yes, that means I really have spent hours trawling through them all.

Again.

And what’s more, I don’t care how sad that makes me.

It was a magical journey down nostalgia lane.

More specifically, nostalgia that was specific to my life, not just everyone else’s.

America may have had Disneyland.

But us kids in Britain had the Argos catalogue.

You can explore the history of 40+ English imaginations, here and you can see why I think the Argos Christmas campaign – which links to the nostalgia theme of the old catalogues – is already the winner of 2019, below.



Technology Can Make Us More Human …

Technology gets a hard wrap.

It is blamed for all manner of wrongs, when we conveniently forget we are the ones programming it and using it.

Of course, they’re not totally blameless – but like powerpoint – we have to accept that the ‘badness’ that comes from it is, at the very least, equally our own fault.

But sometimes you see something that reminds you of what power technology has.

How is can change how someone looks at the World … feels about that World … thinks about the World.

No where is this more apparent in the area of medicine, where AR is being used in ways that few ever originally considered.

Not just to make people heal, but to make people feel better.

There’s a big difference between those 2, and if you are not sure what they are, then look at this wonderful clip of an elderly, Liverpool football fan, who is suffering from demetia.

Like most things, the role of technology is in our hands. We either use it for good or for evil and the scary thing is – as we’ve found out from countless platform ‘owners’ – the line between them is very thin indeed.