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


The Difference Between Brand And Band Strategy …

I was recently interviewed by a music company about the work I do for artists.

They – quite rightly – wanted to know what I did and how it was different to what I normally did.

And I explained the difference was made clear pretty much in my very first meeting.

Because I was told this …

Now I can’t be sure they used those exact words, but that was the general premise.

And that was what was amazing.

Because when working with brands, they want you to use creativity to engage audiences, but with bands – at least the ones I’ve been exposed to – it’s the opposite.

I don’t mean they want to alienate people – though they understand the importance of sacrifice better than almost any brand marketer I’ve ever met – it’s just they are the creativity … they are the product … and so the last thing they want is some fucker placing a layer of ‘marketing’ on top of their artistic expression which can be twisted, diluted or fucked with so what they want to say and what it means to them, has no consideration whatsoever.

Now I admit I’m very fortunate the artists I’m working for are of a scale where they have the power to not just consider this issue but do something about it.

Many don’t.

However by the same token, when you’re of that scale, the potential for things to get messed up in some way is much greater.

Which is why they ensured I knew my role was not to market them, but to protect their truth.

Do and explore things that amplify who they are not just flog more product.

And because what they create is an expression who they are … they can express their truth without falling into endless streams of cliched brand consultant speak.

+ So no buzz words.
+ No ambiguous terms.
+ Just stories, experiences and considerations that have defined all they do.

And that’s why they don’t really care if you like their music. Sure, it helps, but they don’t want fawning fandom, they want people who understand what they value, believe and give a fuck about so everything associated with what they do expresses it.

Or said another way, they want people who can ‘speak their tongue’.

Now I am the first to admit there have been some mistakes.

Some things you go, “why did you do that?”

But in the main, I’ve not seen much of it and even when I have called stuff out, they have [generally] appreciated it, because – as I was also told on my first day – I’m being paid to give them truth not comfort.

I’ve always said people should not aspire to be a planner, but get away with the things a planner can get away with. And I’ve got away with a lot as a planner. Done all manner of weird and wonderful.

While I’d like to think that’s what helped me get this gig … the reality is I got it because of an introduction from someone I know.

And while in theory any strategist could do what I’m doing, how I do strategy and how I have been asked to view what it’s role is, has highlighted that’s not the case.

Not because of capability, but what the industry currently wants and expects.

And this is manifested in increasingly not being given the time, support or standards to do things right.

Where speed is more important than substance.

Process more valuable than output.

I wrote about this and more, here.

But it’s more than that, it’s also what clients think strategy is for …

Packaging rather than changing.

Wanting quick wins rather than long term value.

Targeting needs, not a point of view in the world.

Chasing convenience not authenticity.

If anything, doing this work has made me even more grateful to the bosses, agencies and clients I’ve worked with over my career.

Because when I look back, the truly great ones were basically like a band.

Born of belief. Defined by a point of view. Wanting to attract not chase anything popular.

And that’s a big part of why they have been able to remain at the forefront of their individual discipline, category and/or sub-culture.

Because they never saw strategy as a tool for marketing, but to amplify their truth.

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If the Insult Fits …
October 5, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment

So I’m back.

A few weeks ago I got a message from a client of mine.

They said, “saw this, thought of you”.

This is what they saw …

The problem was that after I read it, I wasn’t sure which person in the conversation I reminded them of – because frankly, it could be both.

Which may have been their point.

Though, having asked some friends – and my wife – what they thought, they informed me the sentence, “I didn’t ghost you. I just stopped entertaining mediocrity” was ‘pure Rob’.

Now while I should resent that view, I’ve come to the realisation I resemble it instead.

And weirdly, I’ve even taken it as a compliment.

Which means my client was absolutely right.

I’m an absolute asshole.

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Thank You For All The Things You Never Understood Or Accepted You Did …

news of The Queen – I was still shocked.

But while the Queen had been in my life for all my life, the loss of Dan – like Dave before him – was much more personal and emotional.

And while over the coming weeks there will be many stories about Dan Wieden that will all be amazing to read – from his brilliance to his humbleness – I thought I’d write about something else that made him special …

His ability to unite a culture while encouraging the individuality of that culture.

That’s an amazing thing to achieve. To build something united by the same passion and values wherever in the World you are located, but still be able to – encouraged even – express your individuality, even if it would be in conflict with what he would have chosen.

But then, when you got to know him, you realised he craved creativity, not conformity, and suddenly everything makes sense.

I have a bunch of stories about this brilliant man … and while the one where he held my hand and told me “never leave”, despite having just belly danced for him [long story] is one I love, this is probably my favourite.

For reasons I don’t need to go into, Wieden wanted me to feel some major love.

So one day, I got whisked from W+K Shanghai and plonked in front of Dan in Portland.

I think he was as surprised as me to be there, but we chatted about all manner of things … from why he thought it would be great for me to run The Kennedys [which was the highest compliment, given I was a planner] to how on earth he had managed to have offices in China, Japan and India – which still blew his mind.

After 45 mins, he asked if I fancied lunch.

Of course I said yes to which he told me to follow him as we walked to one of his fave local restaurants.

Nothing fancy. Just lovely.

We had an enjoyable lunch and he told me he was glad I was there. He even sounded like he meant it, haha. So when the bill came, I asked if I could pay.

He looked at me like I was a lunatic and asked why.

“Well …”, I said, “… my friends think you’re mad for hiring me so I want to get them back and paying for this meal is my way of asking you for a favour”.

[For the record, of lot of those ‘friends’ were regular contributors to this blog, when I allowed comments – which I miss. Damnit]

He looked me dead in the eye and replied …

“Should have known there’s no such thing as a free lunch. OK Campbell, tell me”.

So I asked if I could have a photo with him … but I wanted him to look like he was bollocking me, so I could show my friends and pretend he’d just found out they were right.

His eyes lit up.

“That doesn’t make much sense to me but let’s do it” … which explains the photo at the top of this post and why every single time he saw me from then on [and I mean EVERY time] he’d say, “I thought I fired your ass” … thankfully with his eyes shining their infectious, mischievous sparkle, so I knew I could come in the next day.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have so many brilliant people shape it, and Dan was one of them.

In many ways he changed my life. Certainly the trajectory.

That may sound huge, but the opportunities he gave me through the company he co-founded resulted in a life I never could imagine and will always be grateful for.

Dan was a legend.

Not just in creativity or advertising but in so many other ways.

From his ability to be a huge presence in any room but never make anyone feel small, through to his beloved Caldera, which helped – and will continue to help – so many who may not have had many chances to see what they can become.

But if you told him he was [and I did] he would wave you away, refusing to acknowledge or accept it.

[And don’t get me started on his reaction when he discovered people had W+K tattooed on them. Often as part of some founders day shenanigans. He literally couldn’t understand it]

So that just leaves me to say a huge thank you to you Dan. For everything.

Your legacy lives on through your work, your agency, your impact and the people who were so lucky to work for you and with you.

You probably would tell us to “stop talking horse shit and go make your own legacy” … and while I know we all try and do exactly that, it will all be the better for the time we learnt from you.

Deal with it Dan.

To his family, friends and W+K peeps past and present, I send you my love and deepest condolences.

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Hello LaLaLand …
September 23, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: America, Attitude & Aptitude, Colenso, Confidence, Creativity, Culture, LaLaLand, Metallica

For reasons even America doesn’t deserve, I’m going to be in Los Angeles – and SF – next week.

And while I’m supposedly there for working reasons [with he common thread being the letter M] – that’s not why there’ll be no posts until I return. Nor is it because I’ll be catching up with old friends or buying the latest Apple gear because I can’t be arsed to wait till it gets to NZ.

OK, there is an element of truth in that …

But the real reason is because I’ll be trying to work through the menu of my favourite restaurant there in the whole wide world.

The Cheesecake Factory.

A restaurant with a menu that is thicker than the bible and tastes that belong in the 1980’s.

Apart from Sammy’s [RIP] in Manhattan Beach that we would go to every Friday night … the Cheesecake Factory was THE restaurant for me.

Yes there’s your In & Out Burgers and your Taco/Tacky Bell … but nothing could beat the bad taste of a good meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

Though – ironically – I never did eat any of their cheesecakes.

It’s going to be weird going back to LA.

Yes, I popped in on my way to see Forest in the premiership final.

And yes, I went there when we were living in England – pre-pandemic.

But while my time in LA was not my favourite time of my life or career, there were a lot of brilliant friends I made and experiences I had – even the weird ones – which means I’m quite excited to be going over and reconnect to the things that made a lasting impression on me and the people who changed my life.

So I’ll see you when I’m back. Possibly having had a heart by-pass. Either way, if you’re in LA and want to catch up, you know where to find me.

See you in 10 days or so.

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Be Metallica, Not The Eagles …

I was recently in a client meeting where we had a discussion about ‘scale’.

The person in question was suggesting – as many do – that the only way to achieve it was to make sure you offer something for everyone.

Now there’s two ways you can do that …

Literally offer something for everyone or be so bland that you don’t alienate anyone.

And when we had this discussion, it reminded me of the Ferdinand Porsche quote that – paraphrased – reads something like:

“Be everything to someone not something to everyone”.

But it was early in the morning for me.

I was talking to clients in America.

So instead, I gave the worst analogy I may have ever used …

I pointed out The Eagles are the best selling American band in history.

That their ‘easy listening’ songs were designed to literally appeal to the widest audience possible. That their repetitive approach has been used to reinforce their position.

Or lack of one.

However the second best selling American band of all time is Metallica.

OK, I’m biased, but no one can say their music is designed for mass appeal.

Even their more ‘audience friendly’ albums still targeted a particular type of music fan. A fan that is anti-mainstream and anti-easy listening.

And yet Metallica’s fierce focus on who they are and what they believe – matched with their desire to continually explore and experiment with formats and approaches for their music – has resulted in them attracting ever bigger audiences rather than chasing them.

But its even more than that …

In the fickle, fast-changing world of music, Metallica haven’t just been able to maintain their credibility and authenticity, they have managed to still be seen as a contemporary band.

A band that is more popular now than they’ve ever been, while not changing who they are, what they believe or who they’re for.

I finished this rant off with the words:

“Be Metallica, not The Eagles”.

Fortunately, given I was doing this call at stupid o’clock, people let it pass.

However, while the analogy may be bollocks, the reality isn’t.

We live in an industry that is increasingly falling into rules of how things should be done.

And there are some – without doubt.

But we are in danger of ignoring the power of culture and creativity in favour of box-ticking and formulas and yet it’s the brands and bands like Nike, Metallica, SKP-S, Kanye, Liquid Death who not only hold – and set – the cultural attention and narrative, but continue to fast-track growth and profit compared to a category who blindly follow a system designed to play more to the ‘safety’ of the middle rather than the power and influence of the edge.

I’m not saying it’s easy.

I’m not saying it’s not without risk.

I’m not saying it happens in a smooth, straight line.

But when you do it well … when you know who you are, who you’re for and what you believe, it’s definitely worth it, against pretty much every metric you can measure it against.

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