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

Introducing Mr Generous: He Gave His Hair For Your Planning Development.
April 15, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

I’ve been writing this blog for 5 years …


And while I have written over 1700 posts, the fact is most of them are pretty much the same, just written in a different way.

To be honest, I’ve been finding it much, much harder to write as of late … which is pretty ridiculous given there is always something interesting to say/comment on somewhere out there.

The reason I say this is because I have been back on Northern Planners blog and despite him writing his for way longer than me … he is continually writing fucking fascinating, valuable and informative posts … and to further rub my nose in it, his posts are generally focused on planning and advertising whereas I write nonsense and am still running out of things to say.

Andrew has this amazing ability to teach people amazing skills in simple, engaging and motivating ways … it’s sickeningly brilliant.

Without me wanting to turn this into another NP lovefest, I can honestly say that I regard him as one of the best of the best and [no doubt to his horror] I genuinely hope I can work with him one day.

Of course I’d drive him mad – but I don’t care – because while he would be grinding his teeth and trying to keep his frustration under control … I’d be learning a huge amount of stuff and the thought of that is both exciting and infectious for me.

There’s a lot of good planners out there … planners with an amazing track record of agencies and work … but not only is Northern more than a match for all of them, he is incredibly gracious and generous with his knowledge, talent and advice and if you read his tips for his brilliant A[P]SOTW assignment [tips that would put the APG to shame, especially as they would charge you a fortune for it] you’ll be better for it whether you are new to the industry, an old bastard like me or someone simply interested in how communication works.

Thank you Northern for making me feel shit. But in a good way.

Acronyms Are Offensive …
April 14, 2011, 6:30 am
Filed under: Comment

So when I was at the Microsoft conference, I was asked my opinion on the BRIC countries … otherwise known as Brazil, Russia, India & China.

In essence, they wanted to know how companies like Microsoft could maximise the opportunity in these developing nations.

As usual, I went on a bit of a rant.

You see, while I understand why these countries get grouped together and even why they are termed ‘developing’, I can’t help but think both these terms have contributed to why so many Western brands fuck up in these markets.

First issue: Grouping them together implies they’re like eachother.

They’re not.

Let’s face it, if they accept the communities of Ohio are different to the communities of California, why the fuck do they think 4 massive countries, divided by seas and thousands of miles will be similar?

“But they don’t think that Robert, it’s just they’re very important markets and have been grouped as such”, I hear you cry.

Well maybe that is the case, but even if I accept that marketers in Western companies appreciate the massive cultural differences between them all [which I only am semi-willing to accept, especially when you see the work they produce in an attempt to seduce people to their brand] the fact they have grouped them together as if the countries have only just been discovered demonstrates the small mindedness so many Western companies have towards the rest of the World.

[I pointed out that by their reckoning, we could give America, England, Rwanda and Spain the acronym ARSE, but no one seemed to like that. Or find it funny]

And here’s the other thing … calling them ‘developing’ is a fucking outrage.

Sure, in some aspects, each of those BRIC countries may have certain elements that are not as advanced as Western nations – but in many areas, you can point to things where they are miles ahead and yet too many people have the impression these countries are a blank canvas … countries with no views or values of their own … countries waiting for some Western King to come in and show them the way and in all those cases, that is a massive pile of absolute bollocks.

Every one of the BRIC nations [or – as some organisations are calling them, the BRICI to take into account Indonesia] is a proud and culturally rich nation … and in many cases, they’re already in better financial positions than many of the countries who are claiming dominance &/or superiority. To say they are ‘developing’ is a huge misrepresentation which I genuinely believe has/is leading to arrogance on the part of Western nations and organisations because they approach new challenges in a way that makes the brands board of directors feel good and comfortable rather than doing something that truly appreciates and understands the needs/wants & desires of the market they are entering.

Seriously, for all the research these companies do – or claim to do – it’s astounding just how many get it totally and utterly wrong but then when you realise how many companies want to hear their truth rather than the real truth … and how many research companies want long term contracts, rather than a reputation for true insight … you can sort of understand why.

I should point out not all companies are like this. In fact there are many who have done things very well – over a long period of time – but there are a whole heap of them [of which agencies are amongst the worst] that either ignore cultural reality or simply advocate views that ignore any sort of cultual and societal evolution whatsoever.

Acronyms may be convenient but they are also about exclusivity … keeping people [supposedly] in the know, away from people who don’t – or worse, letting people feel like they are in the know when they absolutely aren’t – and all this leads to is arrogance, delusion and billions of dollars being thrown down the drain.

Each of the BRIC or BRICI nations aren’t new.

They’ve been around for longer than many of the so called developed nations.

They have given the World things that many of us now take for granted.

Things that are the foundation of life as we know it.

If companies want to know how they should approach them – do things that can make them lots of money – they should go and spend time there … not dictating terms, but absorbing life … and then, maybe they’ll realise underneath each one of those 4 or 5 innocuous letters, there’s a whole range of individual cultures, ambitions and complexities waiting to be tapped, things that need to be embraced on their own terms, not made convenient just because it helps a bunch of faceless board directors in the US and UK feel better about those “funny people on the other side of the world”.

Opinions Are Like Arseholes …
April 13, 2011, 6:33 am
Filed under: Comment

Bad Opinion?

Why is it that you can meet some people and immediately feel a connection whereas with others, even if you spent 10 days in their company, you’d walk away without any sense of commonality.

Contrary to what some of you are probably thinking, the answer to the people you feel a connection with is not one of the following:

[A] They’re female.
[B] They’re hot.
[C] They support Nottingham Forest.

And for the record, ‘connection’ is not a euphemism for ‘want to shag’ … I mean that you just feel you’re ‘in sync’ even if your backgrounds, views and experiences are wildly different.

Mind you, I find it even stranger how people suddenly act like they’ve met a long-lost brother/sister when they find out they share the same horoscope sign or something.

Anyway the reason I say this is because of all the people I’ve met at the Microsoft thing, there was one person I walked away from feeling I’d met someone very special and another where I walked away hoping to god I’d never cross their path again.

In both cases we talked about similar things, had similar views … and yet one left me feeling good while the other left me feeling relieved they’d gone – and judging by their face – the feeling was entirely mutual.

Good Opinion?

Now I am sure there are lots of reasons for this – reasons a whole bunch of clever people with impressive job titles could tell me about – but the thing is, I am find it fascinating that I can dislike someone as powerfully as I can like someone in what was nothing more than the blink of an eye which means that there must be a whole host of prejudices and negative frames-of-reference lying dormant in my head, only revealing themselves when certain circumstances come to the fore.

I hope that I am not alone in this attitude … though if I am … it is a valuable lesson to remember that regardless what research may tell you, people make their choices and decisions through incredibly complex and personal lenses and so if you want to make sure you communicate a message in a manner that stands a chance of having a positive effect … you’d better know how to convey your message, not just what you have to convey.

Don’t Disrespect The Brain …
April 12, 2011, 6:37 am
Filed under: Comment

So when I was in Seattle, I had the pleasure of talking to Jaron Lanier – whose official title is Partner Architect of the Microsoft eXtreme Computing group but in reality, he should just be called ‘fucking genius’.

This is a guy who has been characterised as one of the top 100 thinkers in the World, one of the top 300 inventors of all time, the person Steven Spielberg turned to when he was making the movie ‘Minority Report’ and the creator of the term ‘Virtual Reality’.

In short, quite clever.

Of course I almost fucked it up because when I first met him, I had no idea who he was so after discussing the quality of the beef burgers at the buffet, I talked about how I loved his hair.

[He has dreads]

God knows what he must of thought, but he was very kind and put up with me … however when I saw him walk out on stage the next day after one of the longest and most impressive intros I’ve ever heard, I died a little inside.

Seriously, I felt like the guy in the cliché Jock movie who tries to pick up some woman at a bar only to find out that she’s his teacher the next day.

Anyway I have to say hearing him talk was an amazing experience … not just because of what he was saying, but in the manner in which he said it.

He was humble, charming, witty and just really engaging … and while I am sure you all know this about him already, I didn’t and he was a definite highlight.

But that aside, it was seeing how his brain worked that I found the most captivating.

There’s a lot of people in adland who think they’re clever … hell, there’s a lot of people in adland that are really clever … but what I loved about listening to Jaron is that while he was talking about issues and insights that were on the edges of human and technological capabilities, he explained it in a way that not only made it easy to understand, but also relevant to every single person in attendance.

When so many people try desperately to show how intelligent they are, here was a guy who was actually trying to downplay it … but then when you’ve been called one of the cleverest people who has ever lived, I don’t suppose you really have to try. Nor care.

But here’s the thing, intelligence without the capability of being understood – either in terms of concept, benefit or relevance – is pointless, which is possibly why my Father used to say people who try hard to be seen as clever are actually demonstrating how they’re not nearly as clever as they think they are.

It’s a lesson that many people in this industry could do with remembering – especially those who think shouting out factoids or percentages is a sign of genius, despite the fact it’s done without context or relevance to the subject, audience or task at hand.

Use It Or Lose It

Anyway, I want to touch on one thing that Jaron said that had a profound effect on me.

He was talking about his love of virtual reality when he casually mentioned one of it’s roles was to see what the brain is really capable of.

His view was that thousands of years ago, there was no language and yet over thousands of years, we [read: our brains] had been able to not just adapt to a new way of communicating, but also develop various forms of it.

In short, he said the brain always had the capacity to learn languages – it just took a long time to get there – which means there are probably many, many more things it can do, learn, uncover however unless we place it in situations and circumstances that represent radical evolution, we may never find out what they are – at least in this life time – and that is the beauty of Virtual Reality, because it can do that … it can collapse the time of evolution.

Now that’s big thinking … like ten trillion times more than the bollocks I spouted at the Creative Circus.

And that leads to my two main points:

1/ Don’t ever just listen to advertising people for thinking/views/concepts and ideas. Infact, you’d be better off listening to them last because way before them should be conversations with Mr and Mrs Average because they can feed you with more potentially valuable insights and perspectives than Mr or Mrs Advertising and their ‘niche lifestyle bubble’ ever could.

2/ Don’t put limits on your imagination when developing ideas because according to Jaron, we all have the capacity to make them normal, even if in some cases, it might take a few thousand years.

A Leopard Can’t Change It’s [Ad Wank] Spots …
April 11, 2011, 6:05 am
Filed under: Comment

It’s Monday. I’m tired and exceedingly grumpy and while that is no justification at all for what I’m about to post, the fact is it’s definitely part of the reason.

I should point out that I do not know any of the people being referred to in the article below.

I am sure they are lovely, smart, talented and genuine … and quite frankly, if someone said what I am about to say, I’d want to smash them in the face … however that aside, I believe there is a lesson to be learnt and it’s not just that I should keep my fucking opinions to myself.

OK, so an article appeared in Campaign Brief Asia where they talked about how McCann Ericsson Singapore has hired Todd Waldren as their new ECD.

As part of the piece, the magazine also featured comments from the agency CEO which had soundbites that included:

“It’s time to throw away what you thought you knew about McCann because everything has changed.”

“Together with the other members of the team in Singapore, McCann is set to make waves, providing highly creative, transformational solutions to our clients that will lead the industry.”

“Every agency talks about creativity and change, but at McCann it’s really happening.”

“… rip up the plan, start anew and maintain the positive feeling that comes with change.”

“Exciting times, so watch this space.”

OK, so it’s bloody excellent to hear someone so passionate about both his new colleagues and his agencies new energy but the thing is – and please remember I am in a pathetically petty mood so whatever I say should be taken with a large pinch of salt, which I know you always do anyway – but as much as he say’s it’s time to throw away what you thought you knew about McCann because everything has changed, the comments he makes [albeit comments I’ve taken a bit out of context] sound exactly the same as every multinational.

“Make waves”“Providing highly creative, transformational solutions to our clients” … come on, does that really give you the feeling there’s a massive shift on the way?

It’s like people who say “think outside the box” when that’s the most unoriginal way to express the desire to try new things known to man.

Yes … I’m being a petty little fuck and I’d like to publicly apologise to Ben and his team because none of them deserve this … however while I am really glad and impressed he is up for changing everything from the inside out, I suggest this attitude should also be spread to the agency lingo because to paraphrase Bill Bernbach [though I can’t find the bloody quote anymore so maybe he didn’t say it] … you can proudly pronounce you’re different from everyone else, but if you say it in the same way and in the same places as everyone else, you’re really showing you’re no different at all.

The thing is, many people in adland think the way to get back to the boardroom table is to talk like you belong at the boardroom table – but in my experience that’s not the case because what they really want to hear is how their business value can be increased.

Adland used to be hired because the people in it had interesting approaches to making companies and brands more successful and famous.

The fact they didn’t look or talk like people in the corporate World was attractive because while they were smart and knew what was going on, they weren’t inhibited by systems, processes and internal cliché.

Somewhere along the line we forgot about this.

Somewhere along the line we thought looking, sounding and acting like our clients was a good idea.

Somewhere along the line we forgot board members put more stock in what we say rather than how we say it.

Somewhere along the line – coincidentally when we ended up being a mirror image of the CEO – we lost our seat at the boardroom table.