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

Truth Comes From Pressure …
October 31, 2011, 6:11 am
Filed under: Comment

Many years ago I did some work for a fashion brand that wanted to target pregnant ladies.

OK, so on first glance, I wasn’t exactly the most appropriate person to work on that business … but apart from the fact I had a fantastic planner working on the project with me [Hello, Abby] I was able to offer some objectivity to the proceedings, ensuring we covered both bases of relevance and provocation.

One of the first things I did was put 8 heavily pregnant women in front of a television and get them to watch ‘Runway Mom’s.

Runway Mom’s was a program that followed catwalk models who had become pregnant.

In short, despite having some little parasite living inside them, they were all gorgeous, stick thin [except for a perfectly round bump] and as glam as can be.

No hot flushes.
No arses like a Boeing 747
No dresses that double as Circus tents.

As you would expect, the commentary from the women watching the show – even though I had purposefully introduced the ladies on the program as ‘freaks of genes’ to see if that would help them rationalise how they looked versus how the models looked – were rather eye-opening.

At first it was all good natured … with the odd muttering of phrases like “Lucky cow” ” but what was interesting was after a time, the commentary became more personal, more critical – especially when the women on the show started talking about their health and fitness regimes and routines.

Before long, the women watching the show started questioning whether the Runway Mom’s were giving their unborn children the right nutrition … whether walking up and down runways in heels [even though most of them weren’t] was good – or even safe – for them … some even started saying that because the women on the show were so thin, they were going to experience incredible hard births.

But what I loved the most was that after their verbal attacks, they said stuff like “oh, but they look so radiant” … as if that nullified all the comments they’d said previously.

I’d love to say this all led to something brilliant that we did for the client, but it didn’t – not really, though it did result in us doing some stuff where we targeted the husbands of the pregnant women as well as the women themselves – however what it did do was highlight how inside everyone is a dark side, a side that can be quite easily provoked – and if you can encourage that to come out, you could learn a whole host of things about people … things that not only reflect the counter side of the Disney-esque life that marketing departments seem so keen to present to the World, but it can give you platform to develop an idea that has real infectiousness to it … because as I used to say to my planning colleagues at cynic, anger is energy.

Microwaveable Planning Careers …
October 28, 2011, 6:13 am
Filed under: Comment

It’s a very un-British thing to say/do, but I think I’m quite good at what I do.

Sure, I’m no superstar, but all in all, I think I can hold my own.

OK, so when you’ve been doing this planning lark for as long as I have – and with people and agencies that I have – you’d hope some of their brilliance and experiences has rubbed off on you … however that aside, I think I’m OK at what I do.

I say this because I’m getting more and more alarmed at what is going on with this industry.

I’m seeing more and more people being given massive planning titles without – as far as I am aware – any formal experience, let alone training.

Sure, at it’s heart, planning is pretty easy.

If you have empathy and a bit of curiosity you’re half way there.

OK, so you also have to be able to take that and find a way to turn it into commercially creative inspiration … however it’s certainly not as complicated as many like to claim and I can easily understand how people from different backgrounds and industries can come into it and be awesome.

And of course there are those annoying bastards who are just brilliant at it from the get-go.

I’ve worked – and work – with a few of those and you know they were just born to do it. Or at least born to understand how to do it.


But back to my point.

Even though planning is not the hardest job in the World and there are people out there who just have an unnatural ability to do it … the amount of people who have come in to the discipline from nothing and are planning heads in a mere matter of months is alarming.

Maybe it’s me.

Maybe I’m not good at what I do.

Maybe I’m totally and utterly deluding myself … after all, it’s taken me over 20 years to get where I am – whereas these other bastards are hitting the heights with only a year or so of experience.

And some of them are going into the industry brand new. I don’t just mean adland … I mean working.

Yes … in a matter of 12-18 months, there are people who are going into a job and being the head of the department in the time it takes most of us to decide what phone we are going to buy.

As I said, I know there are some exceptional people out there – people who scare me with their sheer brilliance – but not all these ‘planning heads’ fit that description, at least not from the outset.

Maybe if they were producing interesting work I’d feel less pissed about this.

Something that changed how people think or a brand behaves.

But most of the time, they can’t … because most of the time, they haven’t done anything.

To be fair, it’s not their fault.

Seriously, it’s not.

If someone offered me a massive payrise and a fancy title, I’d definitely consider it.

The real issue is that companies are willing to do this.

Companies are willing to put people in positions they are no where near ready for, so that they can claim to their clients they have people in those roles and they can charge them more in their monthly retainer.

Which means 5 things:

1/ If they’re so willing to have a department in their organisation run by someone who has no experience in that discipline, let alone running a department – then companies don’t actually value what planning can do for them and their clients.

2/ Companies are happier giving a payrise and/or a title than actually training and nurturing their staff.

3/ Our industry continues to devalue our relevance, value and importance to business and society … not to mention filling the marketplace with people who are are wrongly ‘labelled’ or ignorant [and arrogant] to what their true abilities are.

4/ Clients will become lazier – hiring agencies more on fee than ability. In essence, making us more like an up-market temp agency than an ad agency.

5/ Everyone ends up losing out – some in the short term, everyone in the long.

Being the head of a department is – or should be – more than just a title and a pay rate.

You should be directing the approach of the department.

You should be contributing to the vision of the agency.

You should be leading the charge for the people and brands you represent and live amongst.

Which is why if I was a client and I wanted to be sure the strategists I was entrusting with my business were worthy of being entrusted with my business, I’d start by asking the head of the department one simple question:

“What is your experience?”

What a shame so many clients just don’t seem to care.

Disconnecting People …
October 27, 2011, 6:03 am
Filed under: Comment

It’s the day that the expected iPhone 5 is to be announced.

Around the World, people are staring at their computer screens for a glimpse of the new messiah, tweeting endlessly about what features they think will be on the new messiah and talking ad nauseum about what they’re going to do when they get their hands on the new messiah.

All this hype for a mobile phone must be sickening for brands like NOKIA, Samsung, Motorola and SONY Ericsson – once the undisputed kings of the technology.

“How can we upset Apple’s applecart?” whispers one PR individual at NOKIA HQ.

“I know …” screams another, “… let’s fill social media with something interesting about us, something that will grab people’s attention and see us as the originators … the innovators … the driving force behind the entire industry”.

Which is possibly why, mere hours before Apple were going to underwhelm the World with their 4S, I spotted this tweet from Nokia:

And there – in just 11 words – explains NOKIA’s fall from grace.

Irrelevance. Bad timing. Self delusion. Lost opportunities.

I loved NOKIA.

Hell, in some ways I still do.

NOKIA was my first mobile phone.

And my second.

And my third.

I once waited outside DIXONS electronic store to buy their first ‘style’ phone, the 2110.

Yes, even then I was a sad electronics bastard.

Based on their mantra of ‘human technology’ – they were genuine innovators.

Profile Settings.
Send/Receive Emails.

… and that’s before you even get to their simple to use/understand navigation settings and accessories.

Simple. Meaningful. Effective.

How tragic that their modern history sees them resorting to either executing embarrassing PR stunts … stunts that highlight how off the mark the brands has now become … or putting out press/tweet releases at the most pointless times ever.

At a time where they should be keeping their head down and making something awesome, they are making pointless attacks on the very competition they should now be learning from.

That was why I was so impressed when I read their new CEO’s attack on the companies lethargy to innovate meaningful products.

He could see the issues … he could address the elephant in the room … he could make the changes that could make the changes.

At present it’s too early to see what will happen to this once proud beast.

Early signs are mixed, but overall more positive than they’ve been in a long time … and I hope it continues, because while their current situation makes a great case study on how even the biggest brands can be brought to their knees through blindness and arrogance, the fact is at their best, NOKIA totally ‘get it’ and if they were to recapture this spirit, then Apple would have the competition they need to really push their potential as opposed to following their current strategy of prettying-up existing tech, giving it a cool name and selling it as cutting-edge innovation.

We can hope.

You Know Marketing Is In Trouble When Even Religion Goes Bland …
October 26, 2011, 6:01 am
Filed under: Comment

When we started cynic, we were desperate to do some work for a religion simply because we liked the idea of doing work for someone that stood for something.

None of this, “it’s all about you” or “your choice, your way” nonsense, they say stuff they mean and believe in.

Stuff that has a point.

Stuff that makes a genuine statement.

We never did manage to get one, however we were lucky enough to end up working with Virgin – a different sort of religion – so we were able to relieve our mouthy bastard tendencies with someone else … and that’s fortunate because last week I was traipsing online, I saw this:

Yes, it’s Norman the Morman.


And it’s not a joke.

It could be. It should be. But it’s not.

OK, so they’re obviously trying to tackle the view that people of science don’t believe in religion which is a fair idea, however by using Norman the Morman [sorry, I can’t stop myself from typing that!] as the campaigns figure-head, it sort-of undermines the magnitude of such a revelation, resulting in people – or at least me – remembering the slogan but having no interest in [1] delving any deeper or [2] understanding why Norman decided being a Morman was right for him.

Alright, so maybe Norm is the only follower they have who is also a scientist – which would undermine their entire argument somewhat – however that aside, choosing a spokesperson who sounds like some spoof character on the Fast Show is not the best way to encourage religious conversion – at least with people who you might actually want to see in your Churches.

I know a number of religions are experiencing massive shortfalls in ‘membership’ and maybe part of that is because they are deemed irrelevant to the lifestyle and situations that so many people now live – however relevance and dumbing down are not the same thing and religious beliefs aside [mainly because I haven’t got any] I find it pretty tragic that one of the only industries that has not been afraid to say what it believes and stand up for what it believes has decided acting like an FMCG brand – “say little, but say it everywhere” – is the best course of action for their business.

Bring back the fire and brimstone I say … turn it into an XBOX game – at least if you do that, I might spend some time thinking about it which I can tell you, will improve the odds of converting me by about 10,000,000%, especially if the alternative is trying to lure me in with scientist Norman the Morman.

Strange Is In The Eye Of The Beholder …
October 25, 2011, 6:18 am
Filed under: Comment

Shanghai is a fascinating place.

Not just for the culture and the energy, but for the people who walk around the streets.

The W+K office is in the French Concession part of town.

It’s a mad, bustling area … where poncey cafes and overpriced hairdressers rub shoulders with frog soup restaurants, dodgy bars and street sellers flogging everything from insects, pirate DVD’s and the cheapest [financially and metaphorically] fake products you’ve ever seen in your life.

Maybe that’s why the pavements around are offices are littered with colourful characters.

In just the last week I have seen the following:

1. People walking around in their pyjamas.

2. A man in surgeon’s gear, on a bike, smoking with a cape flapping behind him.

3. A man having a coffee outside at a cafe, with a real, live hawk attached to his arm.

4. A crowd of people gathered around a tortoise that was wearing a bow.

5. Three elderly women walking backwards flapping their arms around.

6. A woman pulling a huge and heavy cart with a man fast asleep in the back of it.

And you know what’s weird, only the man with the bird on his arm made me raise my eyebrows!!!

Seriously, the sort of human behaviour that result in most cities in the World calling their Armed Response Police Squads to sort out, has become my normality in just over a year.

Now the thing is, I love it.

I love the madness, the craziness, the unexpected … I love it all … but it still sort of peeves me when some pyjama wearing pensioner, walking backwards with a bird of prey on one arm and a tortoise in a bow on the other – while pulling a heavy wooden cart with a load of drunken men in it – looks at me like I’M the one who has escaped the lunatic asylum just because I’m still wearing Birkenstocks when the weather is no longer so hot that even your sweat, sweats.

Hell, I know this city will make me wear shoes at some point – even if it’s [hopefully] for just a couple of days – so I just hope that till then, we can come to some sort of truce where I won’t mention their FUCKINGINSANEOUTDOORCLOTHINGANDBEHAVIOURALHABITS and they turn a blind eye to my FUCKINGINSANEOUTDOORCHOICEOFSHOES.

Thank you, I feel much better now.