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

It Makes Sense That In The Land Of Fakes …
February 26, 2010, 6:16 am
Filed under: Comment

… they can announce the return of the King of Pop.


Saying that, I have to say I laughed out loud when I saw underneath the news of Wacko’s resurrection was notification of a puppet making course.

Coincidence? No, I didn’t think so either.

Does Simon Cowell Do More For Humanity Than The Catholic Church?
February 25, 2010, 6:13 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things that has always bugged me about cynic’s perception, is that people think we’re a bunch of miserable, negative focused bastards.

OK, so I accept some of that view is driven by the attitude of Andy and me … however the company has never been about undermining, destroying or humiliating, it’s actually been about trying to do the right thing for people, brands and us.

Our view has always been that our ‘clients’ are the general public and our role is to ensure that when companies try to connect with them, they do it in a way that is relevant, honest and valuable to their needs and life, rather than purely in the interests of the companies doing the advertising.

It’s for this reason we have been so active in areas that are now seen as the ‘in thing’, such as product development, freakonomics and social influence as opposed to just traditional advertising.

Maybe I’m saying to this to feel better about myself/ourselves, but my belief is that we’ve always been much more about justice than ridicule – however to achieve this, we’ve felt it necessary to explore the negative as much as the positive because we believe this leads to finding ways that will be much more relevant and pragmatic [our mantra: anger is energy] than the contrived Disneyland tone so many brands happily churn out.

This isn’t about us trading on fear … far from it … it’s about us trading on a real understanding of people’s lives as opposed to the marketing version so many companies like to embrace and promote.

Over the years we’ve been accused of all sorts of things, from being negative to courting the controvertial … but it’s never been about that … it’s just we believe you can’t move forward unless you have breadth and depth of information – and that includes the less favourable stuff as much as the uber-positive elements – and if people/companies don’t think that’s worth chasing, then we’d rather not work with them because ultimately what they want is delusion, not liberation.

I have to admit it really pisses me/us off when companies refuse to accept counter trends and views. Of course there’s going to be generalisation in our industry [even though there’s way too much] however there seems to be this unwritten attitude that the World all thinks/acts/dreams the same and that’s annoying to the extreme – especially as most of these views are based on very superficial levels of exploration.

As much as the World thinks Asia is a region obsessed with ‘face’, in my experience it is something that lives within everyone and by taking the time to find out the conflict that lives in people’s minds and lives … things they feel unable to openly express for fear of ridicule … you can not only understand the emotional elements that are dictating their choices and lives, but you can identify ways to make things better for them, whilst still working in your clients best interests at the same time.

I know that sounds weird or wrong … but it can be done … even though I admit it is harder to achieve, especially as it doesn’t revolve around traditional ad campaigns. [ala my social capitalism philosophy that I’ve been banging on about for bloody ages ]

Anyway the reason I bring this up is that I’ve just read a great book that is basically about liberating people from the emotionally delusional life we have all been encouraged to live.

The book, Smile Or Die, questions the value in obsessively thinking positive, regardless of the situation.

The author, Barbara Ehrenreich, argues that this approach often results in the creation of stress, depression, inactivity and a complete disregard for your own responsibilities.

I’ve read some reviews of the book that basically lambasted the author for being negative … but the people saying that are missing the point … because pretending everything is great doesn’t mean it is or will be, and whilst I am not suggesting there’s no value in thinking positively, this trend of one-dimensional thinking [or said another way, ‘entitlement’] does seem to be undermining the potential of people, communities, countries and companies as a whole … especially given the rise in activities such as drug and alcohol abuse indicates its more about denial than delusion.

Whilst I don’t agree with everything Barbara says, I think she has a very interesting – and valid – point of view so if you want to judge it for yourself, you can buy the book here.

Government Irresponsibility …
February 24, 2010, 6:28 am
Filed under: Comment

There’s a lot of talk about the value of Government advertising at the moment – especially in the UK – but the thing is, I wonder if it has ever really been effective.

I know there’ll be lots of figures to back up lots of campaigns … but my problem is, as I wrote here, too many Government campaigns are focused on highlighting the issue rather than addressing the cause.

Let’s face it, when you’re the Government, you can create situations and scenarios that can change behaviour more powerfully, quickly and easily than pretty much anything adland could deliver in a million years … but to do that requires effort, so it’s much easier [and cheaper?] to approve an ad campaign because that way they can appear like they care and appease voters without actually having to do anything that could highlight how bad the situation actually is.

Too much alcohol is dangerous.

Going too fast is dangerous.

Not exercising is dangerous.

Drugs are dangerous.

No shit Sherlock!

Come on … do the powers-that-be honestly believe people don’t know this stuff but choose to do it anyway?

Do they honestly believe a 30” ad and some billboards will change deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviour on mass?

Sure it might have some effect … sure it might contribute to a few people stopping/considering what they were previously doing … but when it’s costing hundreds of millions of pounds/euros/dollars to do these sorts of campaigns, you can hardly call that a good return on investment.

But are the Governments the only ones to blame?

Well frankly no.

Promoting the problem rather than addressing the cause is hardly a new situation … this attitude has been around for decades … however I can’t help but feel one of the reasons why so many people are now starting to question the effectiveness and validity of these Government campaigns is more to do with their concern that the huge expenditure – when added to the enormous amounts spent bailing out the banks – could result in the services and benefits they enjoy being directly and negatively impacted rather than them being concerned society is on the brink of total alcohol/obesity/speed and drug abuse.

Is everyone like this?

Of course not … and let’s face it, Government benefits and services hardly allow someone to live in the lap of luxury, so it’s a potentially very serious issue … however if people have been happy to accept ads instead of action for decades, then they have to shoulder some of the blame, even if it is less than the people we have chosen to look after the nations total [not just the ‘glory cities’] development and growth.

There’s a great line in a Michael Moore movie where someone says the French Government are scared of their people whereas in America [and many other countries] the people are scared of their Government … so instead of waiting till polling day where many of us will end up voting for whichever party suits our personal circumstances the best, get angry and make change happen during the term, not at the end.

Maybe we should all follow WK’s Honda ad: hate something, change something … which sounds a damn sight more productive than hate something, whinge.

Proprietary Prejudice …
February 23, 2010, 6:55 am
Filed under: Comment

I’ve not lived in Asia that long, but in the time I have been here, I’ve fallen in love with the place.

That doesn’t mean there’s not parts that are frustrating … but in a weird kinda-way, that’s half the reason I like it so much – especially from a professional perspective – because there’s beliefs, philosophies and activities that, from a Western perspective, make no bloody sense at all so it’s forced me to re-think and re-learn ‘stuff’ so I can actually get an appreciation of where these decisions and choices come from.

Of course the standards of creativity have a lot to be desired … or should I say, that standard of creativity that clients tend to buy, has a lot to be desired … but as I‘ve said in the past, whilst it might be harder to get great [traditional] advertising through the fear-driven, boss-appeasing marketing department, they are very open to big ideas as long as you can express it as a business opportunity rather than a creative one.

Saying that, there’s a whole heap of shit talked about the differences between Asian and Western attitudes – as I highlighted with the Halibut Fisher spoof research blog – but what pisses me off most is when a company comes out with statements that are so generalistic and/or simplistic that they are both meaningless and offensive to the extreme.

The reason I bring this up is because I have just been sent something that I find offensive in almost every way possible, however before I start to bitch about it, have a look for yourself …

Grey Research

Well done GREY … that couldn’t of been more offensively written if you’d got BNP to do it.


Well let’s start with the condescending headline, “How Do You Connect With Asians”.

Jesus, talk about making billions of people feel like they’re sub-human.

Who wrote this bollocks?

2/1 it wasn’t someone from this region … and in the unlikely event it was, then I can only assume they’ve spent too much time away from the place and developed the sort-of elitist attitude you tend to get with many an ex-pat.

Either way, here’s hoping they get hung up and whipped repeatedly for degrading a whole culture in 6 words – even though I do admit that is quite an impressive feat.

And then there’s this whole ‘Asian’s like short and simple’ declaration.

Now that just pisses me off.

If I look at that statement in a positive light, I would say all people – to a certain extent – like less clutter and confusion in their lives so how GREY can claim this is some sort of phenomenon is beyond me.

However if I look at their declaration with a more cynical eye, then I would suggest they’re saying Asian’s like simplistic rather than simple and if anything is guaranteed to make me angry, it’s that kind of bollocks.

To be fair, GREY aren’t the first company to make that sort of claim [which sort of devalues the value and quality of their proprietary research] because ever since I’ve been here, I’ve had people say “they don’t get complicated.”

Let’s get something straight, this is a region that has one the richest, most layered and complex cultures on the planet … where everything has some sort of meaning and implication … so to say billions of people only respond to the sort of Neanderthal grunts churned out by drunk, horny Australian men is pretty fucking offensive when you think about it.

OK … OK … so there is evidence that where advertising is concerned, the communication that is embraced and understood the most effectively is the stuff that has a single, clear message running through it … but again, isn’t that similar to most cultures and markets?

But let’s imagine that is not the case.

Is that the fault of the people – billions of people who let us remember, see importance in the slightest of subtleties – or the ad industry for boring them so badly with their inane communication, that no one really cares about the ad?

I know I am being over-the-top here … and I do know there are definitely some issues interms of how messages are understood in Asia versus the West … but it’s not because the people here are stupid, it’s because of things like frame-of-reference, education policy and their countries values and culture.

Alright … alright … GREY aren’t claiming this region is full of ‘thicko’s’, but the way the whole thing was written doesn’t exactly smack of a company acknowledging many of the amazing aspects of this region … plus I can’t work out how/why they have placed New Zealand in their list of countries covered by the research given they’re not exactly part of the ‘core region’.

I assume some cheeky Aussie thought it would be funny to put them in the list given they think [1] all Kiwi’s are a bunch of sheep fucking, half wits and [2] Aussies are the most brilliant, clever, beautiful people in the region, World, Universe and certainly don’t have anything to do with those ‘Asian’ folk who reside above their sun scorched island.

I should point out that I am not saying I am any sort of expert of the region … how could I be, I’m a bald bastard from Nottingham … however whilst I haven’t interviewed 33,000 people from all over the region, I would say my methodology for understanding – which includes continual conversations and interactions with journalists from Lonely Planet, teachers, taxi drivers and Police Officers – has led to insights where I wouldn’t have the nerve to claim “Asian’s prefer family orientated brands” is big – or new – news.

However all things considered, I think the thing that upsets me most about this is that the EYE ON ASIA study is usually pretty good … pretty good indeed … so I just hope the only thing that has gone downmarket is the ‘ad’ for the study.

It’s All A Matter Of Perspective …
February 22, 2010, 6:19 am
Filed under: Comment

So I was reading a book recently when the expression ‘Far East’ came up.

To put it in context, it was an American lawyer talking about his wife who was an air stewardess and regularly had to fly to the ‘far east’ … and this got me thinking, what gives America and Europe the right to define Asia as the ‘Far East’?

OK, so I know it has a lot to do with time-zones, sunrise / sunsets, history and even the layout of the bloody World map … but I find it so interesting that the people in Asia don’t look at the US and refer to it as the ‘Far West’ or – if they want to really fuck with people’s minds – the Farther East.

Whilst I am sure the origination of the term wasn’t created with malice – more a rational ‘truism’ of the time – over the years it has sort-of evolved into something a bit sinister, kind of subliminally positioning Asia as the region that lies ‘behind’ the power and majesty of the West.

Well given the World’s financial power and influence is once again returning to Asia, wouldn’t it be interesting if the region started referring to America and Europe as ‘the land behind us’ … bet that would cause all sorts of shit.

I know I sound like one of those ‘right-on’ sods who say’s “blackboards” is a racist term … but I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you express something long enough – and back it up with some examples of perceived dominance – then you can re-position your competition just as well as you are re-positioning yourself.

And for planners/marketers who think a brand should never be arrogant, then may I suggest you at least read this.