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

When National Cuisines Collide [And A Big, Fat Rant!]
November 24, 2006, 12:13 am
Filed under: Comment

So we’re in Thailand helping Ovaltine become even more relevant. [They don’t suffer the same image ‘issues’ as they have in Western markets]

It’s been long, long days … with discussions, debates and downright arguing … but we’re now in an area that is soooooo exciting [for them and for us] that without doubt, it’s been worth the exhaustion.

[In all honesty, I am beside myself with excitement about how this idea could develop – and it reminds me how much I love this job – even though I can’t tell you what the idea is [yet] because they’d go stark, raving mental. Again, ha!]

Anyway, one of the things I love about these workshop thingies is that they provide you with loads of great food to eat at almost every moment. 

The weird thing is that when you do these things in Asia, they supply you with this weird hybrid of local dishes and international ‘classics’ – though some of these seem to be rather strange, including an almost unhealthy obsession with ‘Bread & Butter Pudding’.

So in one of the breaks today, I went outside to see one of the weirdest groupings of food ever placed next to eachother …



Sausage Rolls

Carrot Cake

Prawn Pita Sandwiches


Chicken Pies

Orange Juice




Ovaltine [which you can understand]

… and best of all …

… yes, Jam Donuts!!!

Before I’d even got one into my gob I felt a surge of excitement – and it wasn’t just because [1] I like food that is ‘bad’ for me or [2] I was hungry.

What was amazing was that the feelings I had about donuts from when I was a kid [ ‘naughty but a bloody nice treat’] were still alive and well inside me – even though I hadn’t eaten one for god knows how long. 

They put me in a good mood … they made me happy … they made me smile … all because years and years and years ago, donuts were something associated with ‘nice moments’ – be it parties, with Mum or Dad or friends.

So what is the point of all this?

Well the fact is that there is a growing trend amongst marketers to put communication back into the 1950’s … where every element is expressed rationally and any emotion is sanitised or simply ridiculous.  And this is not just in many parts of Asia … I’m talking about Europe and North America too.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate communication that …

[1] Doesn’t have a product ‘truth’ in it [a real one, not some marketing bollocks]

[2] Doesn’t motivate consumers to act in some way that will benefit the brand

[3] Doesn’t have a real idea at the heart of it

… but this overly rational approach just doesn’t work.

Luckily, clients that choose to work with us do so because of what we believe, what we stand for and what we do … but I am seeing a scary number of brands seemingly forgetting that the majority of  things humans do [if not all] are driven by their hearts and justified by their heads – which ultimately means they make communication that will have little or no impact on society at all.

I talk about this issue in Marketing Magazine … saying that if NIKE started today, there is a high probability it would not ever achieve the same level of success it currently enjoys [agency and client depending] because the attitudinal positioning of ‘JUST DO IT’ would never see the light of day. 

In all likelihood, what we’d end up with is advertising that say’s, “The rubber bases on our shoes are designed to grip tarmac more strongly resulting in you increasing your running speed by [on average] 0.826mph. NIKE: The Science Behind Sporting Achievement”

Inbetween bites of food, Fred said something very interesting today [as he does most days, ha!] … he wondered how many job ads for Marketing/Brand Directors features the requirement: MUST HAVE IMAGINATION

I would guess none.

And yet, this is such a vital component of the job – because as much as they must be business focused, they must also be consumer focused … which means understanding how to connect with people  emotionally, rationally, culturally and/or attitudinally. 

Without the ability to ‘imagine’ … I do not believe they can perform the fundamental role of ‘connecting brands to people’ – let alone credibly judge whether an idea or a creative piece is good or not.

If the industry [and I am talking anyone associated with communicating to consumers – so clients, as well as agencies] do not get a grip on this, they better hope they have astounding distribution [as well as poor competitors] because in all likelihood, they are on a road to decline.

If anyone knows a website like Flickr that allows people to host documents that other people can then download, I’ll put up a piece I wrote for MTV entitled, “WHY BRANDS CAN LEARN FROM BANDS” – which basically says that bands are achieving a level of loyalty brands can only dream about [often for less than 0.0001% of the money spent by the big corporations] because they are connecting to people via their  values, beliefs, attitudes and emotions rather than the bland, rational communication which most companies churn out each and every day.

Communication is not rocket science – however much we try and pretend it is – infact it is fundamentally simple … the problem is more and more companies are turning the whole industry into something that should be called PETTY BOASTING – and what’s sad is that the ad industry [in it’s constant quest for cash] – is generally sitting there and letting it happen.

A great creative guy I worked with [now a famous Author with a soon-to-be made Hollywood Film of one of his books, David Rollins] once said, “Clients Get The Advertising They Deserve” – and not only do I now actually understand what he meant, but I am now in a situation where I am forced to agree.

I didn’t get excited because my donut contained the finest raspberry jam [each containing 100 seeds] encased in a fluffy dough kneaded by World class chefs from a French Patisserie … I got excited because it made me feel like a kid again and yet, if we keep going down the path we’re heading, what I – or billions of other consumers – feel/need/want, will have no bearing on how a brand chooses to communicate with me.  Their loss.

13 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Back to what you do best. Insightful Ranting.

You are the Bob Geldof of Advertising, the Defender of Humanity, the Cynic of Cynic.

You’re so right mate. We’re becoming an industry that just turns the dillusional images from the clients head, into a reality.
Why some companies even hire an agency is beyond me. Is it about feeling important given most of them are inept and insignificant pieces of shit?
Thank god there’s a few of us who still stand firm on what we will and will not do because if we surrender, then there is no hope left.
Each day I thank my lucky stars for being at CP+B, because big clients come to us (as they do with some of the other agencies of substance like Mother, W&K, M!, Naked and of course, cynic) and actually ask for our help and advice as opposed to our production facilities so if more and more of this happens, maybe we will be able get the industry as a whole, to do a complete U.
BTW, George gave me a copy of the book. Finally. I loved it, especially Paul’s contribution. Just get it out, before another year passed by.

Comment by Pete

Pete, please don’t be so nice to Rob, you know it will only go to his head.
Good rant Rob, do you feel better now?
Really like Fred’s question on whether imagination is ever featured in mrkt directors job desciptions. It won’t be, but then it’s not in planners or suits job desciptions either. maybe it is assumed they already have that, but at least with planners and suits, you sort of have to prove it in your interview, you could become a mrkt director without that ever coming up. seeing rb tonight, will ask him what he thinks about it. nice to have the angry rob back.

Comment by George B

Excellent post. Trying to work as a writer in Australia and seeing a majority of the CRAP that comes out of most agencies here is numbing.
An inspiring post to say the least… thanks.

Comment by Age

Inspiring? Me?

Has my Mum made you write that?

Comment by Rob

I am a student at MIT and loved your post. I agree with Age that it is very inspiring and was wondering if I could share it with class? Also, would it be possible to send me the brand and band paper you mentioned because I would love to read it. If you are ever over here, please let me know because it would be wonderful to meet you in the flesh and maybe have you speak to the class.

Comment by Paul Harting

Hi Paul – thanks for the compliment – though it also shows the industry must be pretty dull if I sound inspirational. If you really want to be exposed to great, inspiring, intellegent yet relevant views, try and read up on Chris Jaques – the new Y&R America CEO, he is a God and will singlehandidly make the once great agency [it really was. Once] great again. Hopefully.
I actually do get over to the US quite often – not as much as I once did – but quite often all the same. Will let you know when I am next there because I would love to chat – it’s my favourite thing in the World, ha – but otherwise maybe my far cleverer [is that a word] and nicer colleagues, George and Andy, could do it – especially as they are based in NYC.
If you do want to get in contact with them – or want a copy of BRAND vs BAND, you can write to me at and we can sort something out.
Again, thanks for the compliment – I do appreciate it – but all I am saying is what is happening, which sort of should be more depressing than inspiring. Mind you, I’ll take any compliment going – they don’t happen that often! Cheers.

Comment by Rob

Actually, I remember drinking cold ovaltine with milk in Hong Kong lots. Was surprisingly nice.

I think sometimes we all need to look to people like Innocent to see just how much good branding and publicity you can get with a tiny tiny spend and a few good ideas.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

You are so right Rob – but Innocent are not the pioneers of this approach, to be honest VW were doing similar things back in the 60’s and 70’s.

Given this approach is still viewed as pioneering today [even though it shouldn’t be] can you imagine how revolutionary it must have been back then?

And they say the German’s are rational – hell, compared to many, they are/were the most in-touch with humanity out there!

Comment by Rob

Very true. Isnt it sad that some of the most effective thinking planning and spending ideas are still seen as pioneering after 40 years?

Don’t people listen or learn?!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

As it says on the cynic site …

How come, in these days of information and communication superpowers, fewer iconic brands have been built than 20, 30, 40 years ago? OK, the public have got more cynical about life but come on … for the amount of money being spent, there should be tens of thousands of them rather than maybe 200!

It would seem that all this increased intelligence, is actually limiting our potential to grow.

Comment by Rob

Careful Robert. You are starting to get the sort of sycophanitic comments that made RD turn Oprahlike 🙂
Try and nip it in the bud before Andy gets jealous and makes everyones lives in the office miserable; resulting in us hating you / disowning you / firing you.
Your public has spoken.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Go sit on the naughty stool Billy …

Comment by Rob

[…] is the food, and while last time I was here I got to remember my childhood by eating loads of jam donuts … this time I was transported back to a time where I was a little bit older, a little bit […]

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

Leave a Reply