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

Why A Family Trip To A Restaurant Can Highlight One Of The Major Problems With Planning …
April 22, 2011, 6:03 am
Filed under: Comment

So I was at dinner last week and while I was waiting for the table, I looked across the room and saw this:

Yep, 3 kids, all playing games on various Apple products … iTouch, iPhone and iPad or as I prefer to call them, the electronic babysitters.

Now whilst I appreciate anything that keeps a kid quiet could be viewed as a good thing, when I saw the family act in exactly the same way when they were sitting at the table and eating, I ended up feeling pretty sad.

The thing is, meal time is a very important time … and in Asia, it’s always been a pivotal family moment where literally people get together, talk and connect … however it seems to be shifting and people now classify being in the same vicinity as family time rather than literally interacting and sharing stuff.

Now it’s all very easy to criticise, especially as I don’t have kids – but this attitude of convenience is prevailing everywhere which is why I think the photo is a great metaphor for what is currently wrong with planning.

As I’ve said countless times, planning is an outdoor job, not an indoor.

It’s about going out and meeting people rather than sitting behind your desk and reading reports off the internet.

Even if you are in the office, it’s about interacting with colleagues or – as every planner should have – a range of ‘informants’ from a range of industries and categories that can bridge the gap between passive and active engagement.

As I said earlier in the week, I have just been judging a shitload of effectiveness papers and the level of ‘insight’ that I saw was tragic.

Without doubt, I would say 99% of them came from a report rather than an experience … a client document rather than a conversation … a google search rather than exploration …

Planning is a wonderful job with an important role, but if you just sit there looking for convenient answers to complicated problems, you’re part of the problem not the solution and whilst we all have shitloads of work to do [yes, even me] not exposing yourself to ‘real life influence and learning’ is mental so with that in mind – and assuming you have no legs and are chained to your desk – here are 5 tips to get a broader understanding of what is going on out there in the real World … things that, if used right, could help you get to a better place than simply rehashing cliched statements based on a report from your client, peers or desk research.

1/ Magazine Promiscuity.

From trash to high-brow … read a different magazine a week.

In a perfect World, you’d read lots … but at the very least, reading a completely different magazine each week will expose you to a range of stuff from interesting to downright weird.

Oh, and make sure you include the trashy shit … because as much as it might offend you, a fuckload of people read it and our job is to understand the masses, not judge them.

2/ Develop And Nurture Informants.

I am a huge believer in informants. The more the merrier.

They should absolutely NOT come from the industry, they should be people who have a connection to ‘real life’ and be in a position to be able to voice an opinion because of their position.

My current range of informants includes teachers, police officers [fraud squad], journalists, taxi drivers, depression councilors, OAP’s, casino managers, Mums and Dad’s, retail assistants, talkback hosts, magazine editors and my beloved [from a research perspective only] prostitutes, to name but a few.

It may seem difficult to get, but it really isn’t … it just requires a pleasant tone, a genuine interest to hear what they have to say and maybe the odd lunch every now and then.

3/ Use Your Mouth & Ears.

Talk to people.

Lots of people.

It doesn’t matter what they do or where they do it … asking how they are going, how business is, best/worst moments, their family life can give you hints of what might be going on underneath the illusionary wall we all put up around ourselves.

This is why talking to friends and family can be good – or at least observing what they do & say. I’m not suggesting these people will be a representation of the rest of the World, but if they’re not associated with adland [bar being connected to you] you might find they see more about what is going on than you’d imagine.

4/ Watch The News. Read The News.

Sure the news is often focused on depressing issues – but they’re issues that infiltrate society and affect how many people think, act and behave.

If you don’t know what is going on in your community, country and World, you’re basically disconnecting yourself from a major influencer of your audience and if you’re willing to do that, you’re either a genius or an idiot.

Read local rags to national newspapers … and read them all, not just the sports pages or the front cover … read every part of them. And yes, that includes the classifieds … you can learn a lot from the volume of classifieds to the services they’re offering.

Are there lots of job ads and house sales or not many? Are you seeing the same thing promoted week in, week out or is it a one off.

Are you seeing more feel good stories or more views against a particular segment.

Don’t just look at the news, read it and understand it.


5/ Go For Regular Walks.

OK, so I said this was if you were attached to your desk, but the simple act of going for a walk and taking a few turns down streets and paths you don’t normally go down is amazingly valuable.

Look in the shop windows … look how people are dressed … check out the ads that surround them …

Are the streets clean or dirty … who do you see walking around: young, old, mothers … are there lots of pets and if so, what sort and size …

Again, I’m not suggesting you will get the answers to life by doing this, but if you open your eyes to what is around you, you’d be surprised – over a bit of time – the number of hints and hunches you could find that may, just may, give you a view into your audience that no brand is speaking to or has even seen.


Now I am not saying these 5 tips are going to suddenly make your planning – and the work that comes from your planning – astounding, at the end of the day, it still relies on your ability to ‘see and read’ what’s going on, however if your currently methodology in how you approach your job is basically to rely on your computer, then it will make a World of difference, if only for the fact that you’ll understand what’s really going on in life rather than the instant, convenient response that technology has a habit of fooling you into believing.

Why The Queen Of England Is A Better Marketer Than Most Marketers …
April 21, 2011, 6:05 am
Filed under: Comment

So after taking the piss out of the arrogance and delusion many Western brands/countries have towards Asian counterparts, it’s nice to see one Western brand that is getting it right and it’s no other than Queenie.

No, I don’t mean the group Freddie Mercury sang for, I mean Lizzie, the real Royal highness.

Back in June I took Jill to Windsor Castle.

There’s a bunch of reasons for it, all that prove I’m a bloody saint, but in the interests of time [and boredom] I’ll skip past them.

Anyway, after going through the medieval equivalent of IKEA, I finally [and thankfully] got to the end where I saw this …

Yes, it’s lots and lots of Windsor Castle books but in a variety of languages.


Now you may think this is obvious given the amount of foreigners that visit the castle each and every day – and it is – which makes it even more mental that so many brands around the World turn their back on making their foreign audience welcome by doing all the can to say ‘we’ve got your money, now stay away’.

She might not have the Empire she once had [and Australia and Canada are hardly worth being happy about having] but in terms of maximising her brand appreciation, relevance and profit, she’s still a great ruler.

Sinsights …
April 20, 2011, 6:23 am
Filed under: Comment

Hello Ineffectiveness!

So I’m one of the judges at the AME festival and the category I’ve been given to look at is ‘best insight’.

There are a lot of entries … covering a lot of categories … and I have to say the standard of them overall has been average.

Sure, there are some fucking awesome ones, the sort of insight that not only pulls you in with its genius, but also makes you hugely jealous with it’s discovery … however there are some that are nothing short of a scandalous embarrassment.

To be fair, some of the issues are because …

1/ Some entries come from agencies in countries where English is not the native language … so they can’t articulate themselves as they would like to and end up being at an immediate disadvantage.

[The fact entries have to be submitted in English is an issue in itself. I appreciate it’s the language of business but we are in Asia and it kind of reflects many of the issues I talked about here]

2/ Some agencies just don’t know how to write a compelling submission meaning it’s all over the place and you literally have to put it together like a written jigsaw.

… however that still doesn’t excuse the fact that there’s a hell of a lot that are utter bullshit and the fact certain agencies felt it OK to enter means they either are deluded [which I doubt], think the judges are so fucking stupid they might not realise [which I hope not] or believe that because the company behind the awards make so much money from putting them together, they will encourage everyone to not be too harsh for fear of stopping them entering next year. [which is possible, but not true]

While there are many types of insight, at it’s heart, they’re all about WHY stuff happens rather than WHAT.

As a concept, that shouldn’t be too hard, however it would appear there’s a hell of a lot of people who view that as one of the greatest challenges known to man because entry after entry was just pointless or generic observation, after pointless or generic observation.

Now I don’t know who is to blame for it.

Clients: who obviously don’t get what an insight is and just want something that makes them feel they’re great regardless of relevance or reality.

Agencies: who seemingly don’t care what an insight is as long as their client keeps spending money with them.

Planners: who don’t get what an insight is due to bad training, talent or understanding.

Of course not all entries were bad. As I said, some were fucking astounding … however if I was to look at the overall standard, I’d say it was a distinctly average bunch.

And that breaks my heart because it undermines what we are all capable of doing and contributing to both industry, commerce and culture.

However one thing that really, really, really got my goat was how many submissions had insights that bore no reflection in the work that was produced.

In many cases it was like I was looking at 2 totally separate entries.

The thing is, this is a marketing effectiveness award [though based on the entries, it’s really should be called an advertising effectiveness award] with the goal to show how your genius/devious approach, transformed the success of your brand in disproportionate terms.

If you end up with an ad that basically is either [1] the same as it always has been or [2] a category cliché … then I can’t see how you can claim you contributed something innovative that had a devastatingly positive effect on the brands result.

Effectiveness awards are more than just the result, it’s how you achieved the result … and if you’re going to say it’s the insight, then make sure you tick off the following criteria:

1/ It’s a genuine insight … not an observation or just plain bollocks.

2/ The insight is fresh, interesting, relevant and – to a certain degree – explainable … not some ‘bland’ or ‘state-the–obvious’ rubbish or some statement that suddenly makes an appearance with no explanation and then is never touched on again.

3/ The work reflects the insight … that doesn’t mean the work is the insight, just reflects it.

4/ The work that reflects the insight is work that doesn’t reflect the category. As far as I am concerned, it shouldn’t reflect a brands ‘usual’ approach either …however if you are doing something genuinely different to the category, then I can sort-of accept why you might want to enter it again, even though winning with that insight one year makes me think you shouldn’t be able to enter it again the following year. But that’s just me.

5/ The results you’re claiming actually mean something. Something tangible and commercially valuable. Including how many fucking ‘facebook likes’ you got or that some 16 year old spotty blogger in Singapore thinks “it’s like, totally rad. Dude” is not effectiveness, it’s called making a silk purse out of a pile of shit. And you can include ‘how many youtube hits’ in that as well. Basically anything that tries to flog ‘awareness’ rather than shareholder value.

Of course, the alternative is to not enter any awards where I have been kindly asked to be a judge … though I know the other guys casting their eyes over the entries and they make me look like Mary Poppins.

Saying all that, apart from some truly amazing entries that deserve all the praise they will get – the award event is shaping up to be truly awesome with some fantastic speakers ranging from Mark Earls and Rory Sutherland through to PT Black and founder of Tudou, Gary Wang so if you find yourself in Shanghai on the 12th and 13th May and don’t mind being seen in public with me, pop in and I’ll buy you a drink. As long as it’s a Diet Coke.

Cats Turn A House Into A Home …
April 19, 2011, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

So a while back, Mother did an ad for IKEA using cats.

This is that ad.

I love it.

Actually I more than love it, I adore it.

I can honestly say it’s one of my favourite ever TV ads … which means that on top of it being firmly cemented in my heart and mind, it also makes me hugely jealous and envious because I wish I had done it or – at the very least – identified it as a possible idea.

What makes it worse is [1] I have a moggy and [2] I have worked on IKEA … so all the factors were there if only I’d been clever enough … but that aside, I love it because I not only totally relate to it, but it makes me feel even more positively towards IKEA and Mother than I did previously, and I loved them both a lot. A hell of a lot.

I think IKEA and Mother often get a bad rap.

It’s all too easy to label one the home for shitty furniture and the other the place for frivolous advertising entertainment, but the truth is, neither are true.

Apart from the fact IKEA basically gives everyone the chance to live in a fairly nice looking home, regardless of their income [except in China, where proportionatly, it’s fucking expensive] it gives people choices, options and possibilities. You can take the piss out of their ubiquity or their in-store experience, but they have almost single-handidly made the average house a much nicer – not to mention, a better looking – home … and what the cat ad does, is highlight that whatever your tastes, space or budget, IKEA has something that allows you to turn your house, specifically into your home.

And that’s the thing, a home isn’t just about space or practicality … it’s much more than that … it’s a place where you feel, errrrm ‘true to you’ … and whilst Crispin did that wonderful ad that took the piss out of sentimentality, this ad seems to recognise that sometimes, it’s exactly that emotion that helps make you feel truly settled and while we all know they ultimately want you to buy a shitload of stuff from them, they’ve ensured they’re not saying ‘new’ is a loss of connection, just an extension of it.

Given the amount of times I’ve moved countries, I relate to this a lot.

While we always take our furniture with us, moving means you end up doing a bit of ‘spring cleaning’ [read: disposing] along the way and so we often find ourselves having to buy some new stuff for the house and more often than not, we do it in IKEA.

Infact it’s now got to the stage where I associate IKEA with moving/moved countries but here’s the thing, it’s only becomes ‘part of the house’ when Rosie – our pampered puss [that’s her above] – takes ‘ownership’ of it.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a sofa she sleeps on or a lamp she rubs her face against, when she acts like the new item is “part of the furniture”, that’s when I subconsciously feel I’m truly “in my own home”.

Maybe the ad works best for cat owners … I have heard it wasn’t as successful as IKEA hoped/wanted … but what I can say as an audience of one, is that from a ‘get people to buy perspective’, it not only worked, but it made me feel something towards the brand that went way beyond the place where you go to buy relatively cheap and innovative/practical furniture, but made me feel it was a place that let me always feel I was ‘home’.

Then there’s Mother.

I have a massive soft spot for them … always have, always will … but what I love about this ad is that it shows the World that they’re more than just a one-style agency, they’re a place that really knows people and how to connect with them.

Just like the AA work demonstrated HHCL’s brilliant way of looking at everything [including the beautiful touch of ensuring their emergency phoneline ended in the digits 999] and Chrysler’s superbowl spot showed W+K are about being clever, not cool … this IKEA spot forces people – mainly industry people – to re–evaluate what they think Mother are both about, and capable of … and given our hypocrisy of talking open-mindedness but actually embracing ‘pigeon holing’, that’s quite the achievement as well as the slap in the face.

We Welcome Your Money But Not Your Presence …
April 18, 2011, 6:16 am
Filed under: Comment

So I travel a lot.

And what I find amazing is that despite all the talk of being a ‘global economy’, a ‘connected World’, a ‘smaller World’ … whenever I go to Western countries, I tend to see road/street/office/airport signs in the native language whereas when I am in Asia, I generally see them written in both their native language and English.

OK, so you could argue that because not everyone speaks English they’re still being prejudiced, but I’d say you’re being a pedantic prick …

The fact of the matter is that the Asian market – be it for business or just tourism – has become one of the most, if not the most, important regions in the World and so while we are happy to sit back and take their cash, we do everything we can to make them feel uncomfortable or not welcome.

When I am overseas and getting on an Asian bound plane, the airport security do everything in their power to make the Asian passengers feel like they are guilty of something.

On the way back from Seattle, I saw immigration officers literally interrogating every Asian passenger and demanding to see how much money they were ‘taking back home’.

OK, so in places like the US, UK and Australia, the immigration and custom departments official policy seems to be anyone not from their home country [or from their home country, but black] is viewed as a potential terrorist, scam-artist or illegal immigrant and should be treated as such … but what I’m talking about goes way beyond just the airport experience.

I’m not denying Asian countries have their prejudices, hell they’re prejudiced about an incredible amount of things – many based on myth and legend – and I’m also not denying that Asian countries set themselves up to ultimately favour their home-grown companies [like every other country tries to do] however even if it’s just on a superficial level, the experience an international visitor gets in Asia is far more welcoming and considerate than they offer Asian people back home [and no, giving them a Chinatown doesn’t count] and so if Western markets really do want to attract Asian customers and business, making them feel welcomed and valued might actually go some way to making it happen.