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

Intellectual Inflation …
August 24, 2009, 6:03 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things I love about airports is seeing all the advertising.

The reason I say this is not because it represents the pinnacle of creativity, but because it embodies the ego of so many industries.

To be honest, I’ve never really bought into the whole ‘airport advertising targets the uber-successful’.

There’s a couple of reasons for this …

1/ I go to airports a hell of a lot and I am about as successful as errrrrm, someone you’ve never heard of who isn’t very successful.

2/ The truly successful go to airports so regularly, that they don’t get there 2 hours before takeoff, but about 2 minutes before doors close – meaning they don’t hang around long enough to even notice any of the billboard ads, let alone react to them.

Anyway, getting back to the reason for this post, recently I was walking through HK airport when I saw these …

Jesus Christ, have you ever read such clichéd twaddle? Is it just me or do they sound like the sort of ‘joke’ you get in a Christmas cracker?

I’ve written before how much I value education – and I’ve also written how I don’t believe they should be run as an independent profit centres – however what bugs me is that so many universities are seemingly now positioning themselves as the ‘home for greater wealth’ which has major implications both on the attitudes of the people attending and the courses being offered.

Of course I’m generalising – however a little while back, whilst on Google duty, I was in the fortunate position of doing some work with Harvard when they announced they didn’t want to be known as a place that simply [my words] “churned out the next generation of billionaire banker, but wanted to help develop people who wished to make the World a better place”.

Now, given I’d met many of their professors, I knew this to be true however it didn’t stop me ringing my contacts [professors in law and economics] telling them that if they really wanted this to be the case, why don’t they double the admission costs [as people will still pay as it’s bloody Harvard] and let someone who has [1] no desire to be a banker and [2] no chance of ever attending, study there.

The response?

“You got us Robert”.

You see, whilst I know places like Harvard genuinely do want education to be used as a currency for good [both personal and social] the fact is, we have become a society where ‘value’ is determined almost universally on ‘financial return’ which is why the majority of places of learning hunt down ‘customers’ down with all the zeal of an FMCG … promising wealth seemingly based more on the fact companies like people with MBA’s rather than education – which when mingled with a person’s natural curiosity and pragmatism – can/will open new and exciting doors of opportunities.

As Sir Ken Robinson said in his landmark speech, the problem with all this is that so many people are now getting degrees etc, their value is actually decreasing – meaning that unless something drastic happens, we are in danger of churning out experts in process rather than individuals who can pragmatically take their knowledge and do something new and interesting with it.

If you want to see what the future looks like if universities don’t start embracing and encouraging a more entrepreneurial spirit, look no further than the students of Singapore … a production line of brilliant people who in many cases, sadly have an inability to think around a problem and/or cannot accept objective points of view.

In other words, it’s a generation who aspire to be middle management in an International company rather than create their own future and fate.

I once saw a brilliant professor of psychology [@ Utah University no less!] who said that when he started teaching in the 60’s, the campus was a hotbed of debate regarding how to make the World a better place for all who lived in it … now people just talk about how best to make a billion … and whilst money is incredibly important, if even our places of learning happily perpetuate the myth that the only things of value is first class travel and wearing a suit in an International company, then what hope have we got to make business and life interesting.

I know I am bound to be biased, but it’s for these reasons I hope Richard Branson one day starts a university because by his own admission, if he had based his decisions following the rules advocated by many of the business universities around the World, he’d of ended up being a bloke selling used LP’s at a market stall in South London.

46 Comments so far
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Long time reader, first time commenter. Airport advertising is like natgeo and discovery because their price premium is justified on the basis of being able to attract an influencial audience but if you look behind the data you see its made up of lots of general assumptions that don’t always translate to how people really live. How many students or business execs in HK will see that poster and think attending a business school in the USA makes sense to them? My guess is very few. This choice of media showcases a lack of business and financial sense at Keloggs and another conservative media planner who fills in boxes rather than thinks.
I really enjoyed reading this post, keep up the good work.

Comment by Mediaman

I work on a University client and this post is so dead on. I think it comes down to people misunderstanding and misusing true ‘aspiration’.

Comment by Age

Hello MediaMan … nice to have you pop in. Hope the ‘breakthrough’ results in you making more comments, ha.

Funny how you should mention both NatGeo and Discovery – as I’ve worked on both of those clients – and as much as I love them, in many countries, the fact is you get them as part of a ‘group of channels’ and so its audience [both interms of numbers, profile & loyalty] is subject to debate, certainly interms of how much the network charges for its communication.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s real value in them [and even in airport advertising] however this marketed view that the ‘wealthy & successful’ watch/read them is – in my opinion – very, very, VERY open to interpretation.

As for your client Age – I can just imagine what you hear from them. Infact I was having dinner with the brilliant Prof Mark Chong & Freddie in Singapore last week and I said that I wish a Uni would position itself as something like “Knowledge To Improve The World” rather than this “WE’LL MAKE YOU BETTER PAID THAN NORMAL PEOPLE”

But then I’m a fucking hippy bastard aren’t I!

Comment by Rob

I like your positioning mate, to be honest the uni we work with are great. We purposely positioned them away from the “sandstone” institutions (their terminology) to focus less on selling academics and (false) aspiration but more on the type of person you are and if YOU suit what they want – not the other way around. It’s not quite as forward as your idea but it’s on the right track at least.

Comment by Age

Apologies Robert, this is a very powerful post that raises serious questions on how education should move forward but I leave for Australia today and England won the ashes.

Comment by George

It’s a sad day when even George goes off topic, but it’s beating the King’s of sore winners/losers so I will let him off.

I’ve just checked out and unsurprisingly, there’s not nearly as much mention of it as you’d expect. When Australia lose at sport, they become like America and basically gloss over it and focus on something they can shout about – like how they have the biggest pineapple in the World, even if it is made of plastic and fibre glass.


Anyway I digress …

And Age, the thing is – my idea is not forward thinking at all – infact, it’s a case of going ‘back to the future’ because this is the sort of thing that places of learning shouted back in the 60’s. Allegedly.

If accademia is not careful, they’ll end up like radio stations … having to make ever more outrageous claims of ‘success’ in an attempt to attract students.

I hope I’m wrong.

Comment by Rob

Great post.

On reading this I’m reminded of a quote from Margret Thatcher, she said – “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

I don’t know why, but i feel good universities don’t need mass advertising, because perceptions are built over a perid of time based on tangible things.
I don’t think the uni in question needs to tell the world how sccessful it is, it’s alumini should be able to demonstrate that!

Comment by bhaskar

Excellent to catch up with you Robert, a shame we couldn’t find the time for you to take me to your delightful burger establishment.

I think this is one of your best posts. You raise insightful and interesting points that have implications on education, business and even society. Alas I share George’s enthusiasm for the cricket news so I shall refrain from adding any more comment for fear of taking this excellent post even more off tangent.

I will, however, make sure our mutual lord and master reads it, I am sure he’ll find it very interesting and not for the obvious reasons.


Comment by Lee Hill

what if u’d make some sort of Unicef prgrAm mandetory for the women at uni. so if guys wanted to get laid they would have to follow those courses or not meet them ladies. have them follow their cock down a path of enlightment. Just like the 60’s or acting classes in high school?

Comment by Niko

Can you teach entrepreneurialism in university? Discuss.

Comment by John

Education should be about learning how to learn. That’s it. Morning.

Comment by John

Bloody hell.

Though I have seen some research conducted at Singapore Airport that shows just how much time people pay to ads and messages. It’s not bad considering the rushing you’d expect. GoS though of course…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

You scare me sometimes Niko … but scare me in a good way.

Mr Dodds …

Whilst I understand your ‘learn how to learn’ intellectual statement, I am hoping that by the time people get to Uni, they’ve worked that out otherwise we have to question what the hell has been going on for the last 12 years.

As for whether you can teach entrepreneurialism … maybe you can’t teach it in the sense of a formal process, but I do think you can create an atmosphere that encorages people to be brave in their passions/ideas/thoughts …

And Mr M …

Could I ask you who commissioned the research about the impact advertising has at Singapore Airport? Was it Singapore Airport perhaps?

And even if it was, I have 2 points …

1/ Given Singapore gets excited when people cough after 10pm, it’s little surprise to hear that seeing airport advertising gets their juices flowing.

[Sad cliche there – apologies]

2/ Seeing advertising and reacting to it are very, VERY different and I am getting sick to the back teeth how companies are continually evaluating effectiveness pretty much exlusively on the ‘awareness’ metric.

It’s Monday … I’ve inhereted a bucket of shit and I’m not in a good mood. Can you tell? 🙂

Comment by Rob

Just thought I should point out that none of the people’s comments have put me in a bad mood [bad luck], it’s just a bad day.

Mind you, George and Lee’s aren’t intellectual enough to be on this blog are they, ha!

Comment by Rob

Operating on a higher plane suggests to me that they have devalued degrees and work as stewards.

Comment by John

Are you talking about Lee / George or people in general Mr Dodds?

Comment by Rob


It was done at another airport as well, using eyemapping glasses to record eye movement. The company ( I think sells the media space (of course..!) but the results they showed were pretty interesting.

But as you say it’s not just about seeing it, it’s about engaging and reacting to it… which is why that tripe you posted above won’t ever work!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

we aim to please at niko herzeg marketing

Comment by Niko

Eyecorp … yes I know them well … I believe they have the exclusive licence to many airports for advertising, though I might be wrong.

You don’t have this research do you – I want to show it my eye surgeon and see what he thinks this ‘eye mapping’ really demonstrates/proves … especially as people may be looking at the ads for their sheer horrendousness rather than it having any positive influence over their actions, attitudes and behaviour.

And Mr Niko … please don’t scare me. BTW, what happened with the guy in France you were talking/threatening? 🙂

Comment by Rob

great post rob. i could natter about the importance of education until my stockings turn blue. sadly, australia is slipping very quickly into vocational training as university degree, rather than education for knowledge (sandstone/ivy league aristocracy aside). and age, i’m sorry to say, but your client is a prime leader in them stakes, despite the good work being done on developing a sense of cohesion with them.

but, more importantly, george – what are you doing coming here now? given that england won the ashes you’ll be stuck in an immigration holding cell for days on that burgundy passport of yours! 🙂

on the way-off chance that they let you through, that you’ll be in melbourne AND have time for anything other than work, feel free to get in touch 🙂

oh, and rob, i thought of you today when i walked past the new mindshare logo in the flesh – in all its bollocky purple goodness.

Comment by lauren

U know those 2 things u told me not to do? Well that did nothing for me so, those two things are back on the menu

Comment by Niko

In a show of George’s brain, he is entering your lovely country via Perth – a place that is so fed up of being treated like shit by much of Australia that they would rather eat dog shit than acknowledge they’re in the same land as Brissy, Sydney & Melbourne wankers.

[Obviously I am not including you in that Lauren and – if he’s good – Age too, hahaha]

I’ve just emailed him your details so he can get in touch. He’s only there for a few days so don’t be too upset if he can’t make it. On the contrary, you might be relieved, remember he is an ‘Auntie’, ha!

And Niko … are you going to come over like the character of the same name, played by the ‘interesting’ Steven Segal? Oh dear …

Comment by Rob

in the end the jokes not on piece of mind by giving a piece of my mind, or growing up?

Hard to kill instinct, but sometimes…

Comment by niko

great post. to me, the ads are so 80s. quite yuppie. i m not saying there is something wrong with having a successful career. but if what you want from going to uni is to learn how to rise to the top of some global corporartion – or having the degree as an entry ticket on a higher level… as you wrote, a uni should be a place of education and debate, opening up new perspectives in thinking, questioning things. i don t think it should be a place of breeding elitist tinking. if it is, it is slowly but surely destroying its own academic value…

as for ads at airports… here is an idea at vienna airport i liked. you probably already know it anyway as it was for the european football championship in 2008 : ), but…

Comment by peggy

Hello Peggy – where the hell have you been?

Actually I know don’t I … you’ve been living it up … but it’s nice to have you back and you’re right, the “ad’s” do feel quite 80’s yuppie, but then what do you expect from a place that uses a cereal brand manufacturer as its inspiration – a company who thinks adding honey to cornflakes is cutting edge brand development.


Comment by Rob

oh yes, i ve been living it up. especially last week lol

great to be back! even more as you just made me laugh with that little cutting edge brand development allegory 🙂

Comment by peggy

Now then, R&D astonishment it may not be; but there is much to be said for the tasty development of honey coated cornflakes.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

You would say that, don’t JWT do Kellogg’s Mr M?

Ignore me [as you normally do] … it’s just all this talk is reminding me of one of the worst afternoons of my life when I had to sit in Battle Creek [Kellogg’s HQ] and listen to one of the most insipid brand people I’d ever heard talk about how Kellogg’s were “masters of advertising characterisation” because they had come up with ‘Tony the bloody Tiger for soddin’ Frosties Flakes.

I think I ruined my chances of ever working on the account when I said, “Yeah, he’s OK and all that, but he’s hardly Ronald McDonald is he”.

Best comment I ever made. 🙂

Comment by Rob

Yes we (collective we) do. But I was a loyal user long before then!

I also like Tony because he helped get me one of my first ad interviews! (I had to answer who I would most like to have breakfast with)

I suddenly remember a drunken simian having a chat with John Webster’s ghost about the honey monster…

Comment by Rob Mortimer

That is a cracking comment though

Comment by Rob Mortimer


Branson does have a school for entrepreneurship in SA (the country that helped England win the little urn …)

Comment by Leon Jacobs

Yeah, I know about this – and it’s a brilliant – but it’s not quite what I had in mind when I wrote the post … and besides, I have more faith in SA’s natural entrepreneurial abilities than many students of the West.

PS: I’m not saying its not as valid, just slightly different to what I was suggesting. I think I’ll shut up now.

Comment by Rob

I’d love to see the books Branson would give the students of his uni given he’s dyslexic.

Comment by DH

rob, have you been to perth lately? there’s a reason it gets shit heaped onto it. there’s even an awesome blog dedicated to its shitness:
but hey, i am probably one of those eastern seabord wankers you refer to. i’m ok with that. at least i’m not tossing off living in perth 😀

and of course i won’t be offended if george doesn’t get in touch, silly. i’ll just get age to trash his car while he’s in new york. italian revenge styles 🙂

[mary, i’m kidding. i promise.]

Comment by lauren

You know I love you Lauren and you also know that I prefer Melbourne to any other place in Oz, but saying that, I encourage you to encourage Age to trash George’s car in NYC because [1] he hates his practical family car and [2] he now lives in San Fran. 🙂

Comment by Rob

heh. shows how much i pay attention 🙂 age – see that.. licence to trash george’s car in new york.

Comment by lauren

What a friend you are Lauren …

Comment by Rob

first time to the blog, great post Rob. it is unfortunate that students of this generation are widely return driven, you might have seen a recent piece of news that a girl sued her university in the US (an ivy league, forgot which one) because she wasn’t able to find a job after graduation from this prestigious institution. it was a law student if i remember correctly. so to a certain degree, these advertisers are catering to this new audience that the society is today.

but i agree that universities should steer off-tracked values like this, and not going with the flow. have you thought about teaching in a uni? i work in one that you might be interested!

Comment by renkan

campbell? work in a uni? are you out of your fucking mind?

out of interest are there any hot babes at your place because ive always thought id be a fucking great private teacher.

Comment by andy@cynic

Why the rudeness? It’s just a simple question and it’s not even for you.

Comment by Renkan

Renkan meet Andy. He’s a creative.

Comment by John

i own campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

andy, meet renkan. here’s never been here before, remember?

renkan, it’s probably a good idea to have a look through some old posts/comments so you can see what loud-mouthed marshmallow andy is: tough exterior, gooey on the inside and best served with a stick and absolutely toasted.

Comment by lauren

and lauren owns me.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hello Renkan, great to have you on here though I doubt you’ll come back given Andy’s comments.

Ignore him, he’s like that with everyone – it’s a desperate cry for help – so don’t take it personally and dismiss him like the rest of us do 🙂

I didn’t see that story but it doesn’t surprise me and I think this ‘promise’ that is seemingly being told to the World regarding education and accademic results has great potential to do society harm, to the point where I believe it is a contributing factor to drug abuse …

[Well, I mention it in 1 paragraph towards the bottom of the post, ha!]

Anyway, I hope you come back and thank you for the comment [and the kind words] and for your info, I actually would love to teach but with zero qualifications and a desire to be an objective little bastard, I don’t know who would want me to be let loose on their students … Gary Glitter would probably be more preferred, ha.

Comment by Rob

[…] Intellectual Inflation (via The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod) – For a long time I’ve felt uncomfortable with the “aspirational” side of university advertising and this post helped to codify some of where that worry was coming from. It’s not that the desire to create wealth shouldn’t be part of a student’s motivation (I say that perhaps because I came from an aspire to rise above your station milleu), but that it should not be the only or primary thing that motivates a student in their studies. […]

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