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

Controversial Vs Opinionated …
April 16, 2010, 5:55 am
Filed under: Comment

I spoke at a conference recently where, as I came off the stage, a journalist greeted me with the words,

“If it isn’t the always controversial Robert Campbell”

Now even though I have a reputation as being a bit of a grumpy bastard – the reality is I’m actually quite laid-back, however that greeting really fucked me off.

Maybe it’s my definition of the word, but as far as I am concerned, I am NOT controversial and I hope I never will be.

Controversial means going against popular opinion for the sake of it.

It’s got little to do with intelligence or opinion and all to do with ego and being the centre of attention.

Now I know I sometimes can have views that are contrary to accepted points-of-view, however it’s never for the sake of being controversial … it’s because I believe there’s a valid counter argument/trend that, at the very least, deserves discussion/exploration … and that’s what pisses me off about adland at the moment, because if you disagree with the majority, you’re instantly labelled as ‘controversial’ which not only is untrue, but undermines the validity of your perspective.

However there’s an even more dangerous implication to this condescending attitude …

If people who have alternative views are constantly ‘shut down’, then unless they’re arrogant/egotistical/bullish/resilient bastards like errrrrrm me, then eventually they’ll decide keeping their thoughts to themselves is the easier option and yet if ever there was an industry that needs to embrace multiple views and opinions, it’s adland.

Of course just because you have a different point of view doesn’t mean you’re automatically right … there’s a whole host of criteria that it would need to be judged against … however if you say something and can provide fair and balanced reasoning for that view, then I don’t think it’s right to be immediately labelled as some sort of crack-pot – especially given some of the fuckwit decisions that have been made by the supposed ‘elite’ of adland in the last 20 years.

Enfatico anyone?

Media separation anyone?

Grey’s Eye On Asia anyone?

Look, I’m clever … and I’m often proved wrong … but the reality is that in our industry there’s rarely a fundamentally ‘wrong’ way to do something so if we only promote and celebrate ‘single-approaches/processes/attitudes’ … we’re not just screwing up our industries relevance, we’re ultimately undermining the whole premise and value of creativity.

So next time you think something someone has said is wrong … don’t keep it in your head … sit up straight, take a deep breath and let it out.

27 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Don’t let it out, do something about it.

Comment by John

dont worry rob, youre too thick to be controversial.

Comment by andy@cynic

The most disappointing element of this story is that a journalist called you controversial. If it was a client or agency I could understand it because so many are constantly surrounded by the bland and the simplistic, but a journalist?

This industry is in danger of only having 3 settings: bland, irrelevant or indulgent and it’s disappointing that the people who don’t fit into any of those 3 and have the experience and examples to show there is another way are seen as the controversial ones when it’s the people who robotically dismiss what is being said that are the real examples of the word.

Comment by Pete

waste of brown tongue pete, payrises have already been decided.

Comment by andy@cynic

Well in that case….

Comment by Pete

Controversy is in the eye of the blinkered.
It’s almost amusing that with the amount of unsubstantiated, post rationalised and economically questionable claims being thrown about by various parts of adland today, a man who has a rich history of experience, examples and evidence can viewed as controversial. But when you look at the jury who are casting this judgement, it makes sense because they belong in a sheep pen more than an office.
This does not mean I’m saying you’re always right Robert, I have a rich history of experience, examples and evidence as well, but you generally always have a valid view worth considering and for someone to say otherwise makes no sense at all.

Comment by George

waste of brown tongue george, payrises have already been decided.

Comment by andy@cynic

To Pete & George … thank you, though I’m not sure if you know, but the payrises have already been decided so you might find it was a waste of brown tongue. Ha.

And John … I believe ‘letting it out’ is doing something about it. Could people do more? Sure … but this would be a start because we’re in danger of not even letting alternate views to be fairly discussed, let alone ever having a chance of seeing some come to fruition.

PS: Thanks Andy … that’s a bit like us saying you’re too ugly to be gay. Sort-of.

Comment by Rob

I have always been of the opinion that if you have the evidence, preferably independent, to back up a particular view, then you can never be referred to as controversial. You are many things Robert, some that are less than positive, but being controversial is not one of them.

Comment by Lee Hill

That’s all very nice Lee, but can you tell me what you mean by saying I have some traits that are “less than positive”?

But I’m perfect.*

* An independent survey by Halibut Fisher [] found that 100% of the 1 person asked, found Rob Campbell to be perfect compared to his two business partners.

Comment by Rob

Fishing for compliments is so pathetic, but I’ll bite because this is a good post that talks about an issue advertising always likes to brush under the carpet. You should be the editor of campaign or ad age or one of the other rags, you’d make them interesting and stop adland from hiding from the mirrors of truth.

Good one Rob.

Comment by DH

As Andy will be away to make his usual insightful insult, I will do it for him:

Waste of brown tongue Dave, payrises have already been decided.

[But thank you … and actually I’d LOVE to be the editor of one of the magazines, but only for one edition – it looks way too much hard work and there’s no way I could put up with dealing with egomaniac adfolk every day]

Comment by Rob

Be careful what you wish for haha

Comment by rafik

I wrote a series of posts a while back called „content will kill your agency“. It was a point of view – a stance if you will. It is also something that I believed would become important and something that really believed in. I think I did them about a year ago. I got a lot of shit for those posts (and some good feedback too) and I think the whole discussion was tagged “controversial”. Which actually didn’t bother me.

Basically “content will kill your agency” was based upon the “DaVinci code effect” so it was build on some hard facts that could show clearly how a narrative or piece of content could positively effect business and communities both financially and culturally.

As I’ve already mentioned, I got a lot of shit for this idea. Particularly in Germany. But that was OK. I’m lucky that I have people around me that tell me what they think. Or at least did.

I’ve noticed that this has changed, not just with my stuff but in general. At first I thought it was some kind of new Web2.0 sensibility or comment culture, whereby people thought they were sticking to some kind of unwritten rules. You know, be nice to people. But I’ve actually been involved in a project (which I “removed” myself from) that actually used silence as a form of “critique”. This was actual paid work. The “agency” was using it.

An open discussion around an idea is or at least should be the core of the creative process. I’d go so far to say that it IS the creative process. Silence is apathy. Silence is dangerous.

A year or so later it is interesting to see that more and more agencies are embracing content in the way I had been discussing a year or so before. Some of them are actually winning awards with it, making money with it and the communities that are touched by it benefit from it too.

Funny old world.

Comment by Marcus

I’m glad you wrote this Marcus for a number of reasons.

Whilst I agree with you that more agencies are embracing ‘content’, I can’t help but feel many of them are approaching it in an almost robotic way – as if they know it’s important but don’t know why or how to really do it.

This reflects societies increasing reluctance to show their emotions [unless it’s in places where they have the ability to hide, ie: blogs] but I suppose it’s a start … especially considering the alternative.

Silence is a killer.

It achieves little … even if we try and convince ourselves it reflects satisfaction or contentment. No one likes conflict, but if handled correctly and positively, it can break down walls and make great things happen.

As much as many people on this blog think Andy is a prick [haha] the reality is he is one of the best ‘readers’ of people I’ve ever met … and as such, is wonderful at finding the right way to get the right/real answers/reaction that can move things forward.

When we first ended up in our google adventure, we were at Mountain View and met with engineer nerd geniuses who were [rightfully] viewing us with suspicion.

To be honest, I was as intimidated as fuck … but good old Andy asked everyone to leave their phones / computers / pens / pads / gadgets on their desks and said we were going to have something called “a conversation”.

And we did.


And over than 2 hours, we not only got to understand eachother and realise we wanted the same things … but we found out how to get the best out of eachother, which is why when we have ideas, we present it to them as a challenge to solve and when they come up with stuff, they talk about what/how people can use it.

It’s a small thing, but at the same time it’s a huge thing because it’s made things happen rather than get caught up in frustration and I am just sorry the project you worked on didn’t get to be the same, because debate based on intelligent openness is about as liberating as it comes.

Comment by Rob

I’ve probably said this before, but for an industry that’s supposed to be about ideas and originality, it’s quite amazing how conservative it really is.
What most people probably know about Mother is that they don’t have suits (although they do really) for example. It’s only controversial because no one has bothered to wonder if suits are necessary).
Some twat client tried to sit me dowm once and tell me that advertising was like throwing a tennis balls at people (he actually believed I wouldn’t have heard the cliche) before I set him straight.
Most of what makes up ‘adland’ (what a stupid name) is orthodoxy dressed up as innovation – the equivalent of David Cameron in a baseball cap.
By the way, my more digital head is already getting tired of rules – ‘we’ve got to focus activity on Facebook’ being one.
And Marcus, agency types have to believe they’ve discovered something for themselves. I was banging on about Behavioural Economics etc two years ago, no one listened. Then this year my own boss asked me if wanted to go to an IPA conference thing to ‘learn about it’.
Fast Strategy is another one – another IPA initiative from people who’ve had massive FMCG, big budget lead times. If they’d done anything digital, or lowered themselves to retail before fiscal challenges and consumers themselves forced them to, they’d realise that plenty of people have been doing rather than stroking their chins for years.
Up the revolution.

Comment by northern

Great points NP … I’ve banged on that often “big ideas” are actually very small with a cool name – but as this industry is becoming less and less relevant, they jump onto anything deemed “new” as it allows them to feel [and present themselves] as in the know.

I think I’ve mentioned the time George told MTV that they’d probably make more of an impression sending handwritten letters to their followers than emails because they’re not likely to have received many before … but the industry doesn’t like talking about that because they prefer shiny new toys to things you want to be with for a long time.

Without undermining your behavioural economics passion and knowledge, it’s not new in the slightest … it’s been something many people/industries have used in various ways for decades, if not centuries and yet, it’s the buzz word of adland.

Same thing happened with freakonomics and culture planning – something I/cynic had banged on and practiced for at least 5 years before universal ‘fame’.

I’m not saying we invented it … but we did live it and practice it … and yet until other industries started to talk about it [always industries that have the perception of intelligence so adland can be smart by association – anyone say BBHLabs?] we were ridiculed by pretty much everyone we talked to about it from traditional agencies.

It’s not about thinking all ideas are good ideas – I/we have had shitloads that have been a fucking disaster – but we don’t come out with shit for attention and the fact some people can think that, even when we try to always provide evidence for our thoughts, makes me angry beyond belief.

What’s even more annoying is that if I was introduced as being from Google and said say “I think the moon is cheese” I’d probably face half the amount of ridicule I’d get than if I was labelled from adland and announced “Viral ads aren’t a strategy”.

As Marcus said, it’s a funny old world but not in the ‘Haha’ sense.

Comment by Rob

You’re right about Behavioural Economics, i got to it late, but not as late as the great and good, funnily enough, since it’s based on how people really behave and why, it should be something agency people do by instict.

Comment by northern

I didn’t mean to discredit what you had said/done/discovered with behavioural economics, just that adland tends to fully embrace this sort of stuff when it’s already been around and established in other industries for years.

As I said, we weren’t the guys who created freakonomics or cultures influence on planning … it’s just we believed in it and did something with it when it was about as cool as Brian May.

[That reference is just for you NP!]

Comment by Rob

This post is in danger of staying on topic. Where’s Boucher?

Comment by Marcus

He’s gone on a gay creative retreat so this might just end up serious all through the comments. Or it would have had I not said Andy had gone on a gay creative retreat.

Comment by Rob

It sounds like your describing being contrary, rather than being controversial. While I agree it is a poor word (similar to me describing you as combative, which you also took exception to), I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing – it just means the majority don’t necessarily see it as a given (given your descriptions of adland, perhaps that is a good thing). Perhaps principled would have been a better word?

Comment by Simon Kendrick

I’m bound to say principled is a better word because it makes me sound better … and whilst I’d like to think I am, I don’t believe that’s what I’m really saying here.

In the rare moments I’m in ‘work’ mode, comments I make are never said to be controversial or contrary, they are said because circumstances, experience or evidence indicates (at least to me) we should explore or consider an alternate view before leaping into a decision.

The fact some people can think I’m doing this for attentions sake angers me because as much as I could give Bono a run for his money in ego, I have other outlets to let my delusion spill out.

To be fair to you Simon, my combatative side does come out when I’m shut down without consideration or a fair hearing because ultimately, whilst I don’t think I’m very clever, I don’t think I’m so stupid that people can treat me like a piece of shit, even more so when the self appointed “genius” in the room says things with more holes than a piece of Edam cheese, as this blast from the past post demonstrates:

I don’t mind being proved wrong … infact I actually like it as I learn from it and am grateful someone cares enough to really think about the issues I/we raise … I just want to be heard, acknowledged and considered – but then doesn’t everyone?

Comment by Rob

I thought that definition was of opinionated. … … Oh.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

There are some very smart people in this neighbourhood.

Comment by John

Talking about yourself by any chance Mr D?

Comment by Rob

No I was being typically magnanimous. And anyway I only used one very.

Comment by John

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