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

Unwrapping The Judges Presents …
December 17, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web


So it’s the week before Christmas and instead of wishing you all a lovely time, I’m going to give you some tough love. What sort of bastard am I!

Now before we get to the reviews, I want to cover off a few housekeeping things.

1. It’s genuinely good you had a go. I know that makes me sound like Paula Abdul, but I mean it. You don’t improve if you don’t put yourself out there and by doing this, you have done that, so good on you.

2. The brief was [purposefully] weird … of which I’ll touch a bit more on that in a moment.

3. The judges evaluated every entry based purely on what the brief asked for and what was submitted.

4. The feedback is a hybrid of all the judges comments.

All the entries can be viewed here and here.

OK, so back to the brief.

Well as I said, it was purposefully weird and it was done like that for two reasons:

+ Because sadly a lot of RFP’s are like that.

+ It was a bit of a test of your character and balls.

You see I was hoping I would get some responses that would highlight how utterly ridiculous the request was.

I’m not saying you should have ‘declined to pitch’ based on the contradictory elements of the brief, but highlighting some of the commercial ambiguities and explaining the fundamental points you were going to base your strategy on [and the bits you were going to leave for debate at a later date] would have been nice to see.

A couple of you did it – and a big well done to you – but the majority didn’t.

I appreciate that might sound like you’re being cocky, but if done the right way, it would show utter professionalism.

Calling the client a stupid dick would obviously not be respectful or responsible, but if you highlighted – or at least enquired – where some of the information/facts in the brief came from, it would show you’re serious about the task and are not someone who bases everything on the superficial or here-say.

Let’s be honest, there were all sorts of issues that needed to be raised – or at the very least – considered.

From the mixed objectives [cool versus shoe sales] to their lack of credibility in the basketball category to the fact they expect a global campaign for 3 million US$ to the reality that 1 million shoes at US$50 each is hardly going to change the perception of their brand when in 2010, they sold US$20 billion of product.

And that’s just for starters.

To be honest, this is why part of the task was to ask the 5 questions, but unfortunately, very few people actually challenged the validity of what was being requested, even though literally none of the “facts” made sense.

Those 5 questions were your chance to really show what you were made of … prove to H&M that you were the agency that wouldn’t let them make stupid mistakes but overall, the questions were weak.

Only a few people asked ‘why’ basketball shoes.

No one requested to see the product.

No one.

That’s not great because to me, they would be the absolute basic starting point … but maybe people felt that was the wrong thing to do because it was too ‘obvious’.

Or thought that because this was a pretend brief, those questions didn’t matter.

NEVER think something is too obvious.

NEVER assume someone has thought it all through.

I’m not saying clients are stupid, but sadly, too many briefs are written with too little time – so ambiguity, contradiction and superficiality can often exist within them.

So while only one person had the courage to actively challenge the validity of the RFP’s objectives, a lot of you had the courage to believe you could design a better sneaker than H&M.

There were a lot of suggestions for new product – or should I say – new design.

Now while I’m fine with that, the 3 things that most of the judges responded with were:

+ Why are people assuming the H&M basketball shoe won’t be good – especially given their long heritage of doing collaborative lines.

+ What credentials did the people have for thinking their design recommendation was going to be more successful than an international fashion brand.

+ Where in the RFP did it say this approach was agreeable?.

Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that – but you better have a bloody good explanation why you think H&M’s product won’t be good enough [which will be hard given no one asked to see it] not to mention a fantastic – and quantifiable – rationale for why your design will be better.

The submissions that took this route all felt like the person had jumped to the execution and then tried to back-rationalise the strategy and while some were quite good, none were convincing enough to have got through to the next round of the ‘pitch’.

Not only that, hardly anyone thought of using H&M’s existing assets – whether that’s the retail environment or their own apps – they felt it was better to reinvent the wheel which either indicates incredible confidence or that no one really bothered to look at what they already had.

There’s a last couple of general comments.

First of all, never underestimate the importance of a good looking deck.

I know … I know … the quality should stand out but we all know that is not always the case. Besides, a great looking deck makes people pay even more attention and if you’ve put in all this effort, shouldn’t you be doing all you can to make sure you hold their attention and imagination?

The other thing is – and I say this every time – start pitching your idea from the first page.

Come up with a title that puts the audience’s heads into the space you want from the moment they read it.

This might seem a little thing, but it’s important.

You don’t get long to impress and you want to make sure everything is working for you from the moment you begin.

Finally, while many of you said that H&M required a different approach than the well-trodden ground of brands like NIKE and Adidas etc, they all still felt pretty ‘traditional’.

If you’re going to say that – which, for the record, was the right thing to do – then make sure it’s actually different otherwise you’ll be called out on it.

So while all the submissions had good points, there was no standout assignment … and the general lack of business appreciation was the most obvious – and alarming – shortfall.

Sure, some of the judges were classic business people, so they may have looked at the submissions with more of a pure commercial eye … however while advertising is a fantastic, exciting and influential discipline, we’re here to make clients more successful … so if we don’t explore and challenge the fundamental objectives that we’ve been asked to help achieve, then we’re setting everyone up to fail at some level.

Two things I was taught that I still hold dear are:

+ Creativity and commerciality are never mutually exclusive.

+ Popularity is vanity. Profit is sanity.

That obviously doesn’t mean I’m advocating rational and uninspiring advertising, I’m simply saying you have to be aware of what the real business objectives are, especially as in my experience, once you know that, it actually liberates creativity rather than restricts it.

OK, now the lecture is all over, let’s get on with the feedback shall we?

For your information, the judging criteria was simply to evaluate the 4 key objectives laid out in the RFP …

1. Give a clear articulation of what you believe is the core objective of the RFP.

2. Create a strategy that achieves the objective you have identified.

[That means we need to see a definition of the audience, the insight/s driving the strategy, a clear articulation of what the strategy is and examples of how it could be ‘brought to life’, outside of traditional advertising]

3. Write down 5 key questions you wish you could ask the client.

4. Present your findings via a 10-25 page presentation OR a 10 minute video pitch.

So with that, let’s get on with things and the first person to be evaluated, in no particular order, is …


Take note of the points I mentioned earlier regarding ‘presentation style’ and ‘selling from the first page’.

As a flow, your presentation was a logical progression – however the content within each page felt like you were trying to impress rather than giving information and viewpoints that impressed.

The key challenge seemed to be longer than War & Peace and the objective didn’t seem to actually reflect what the heart of the brief was.

Yes, they want an additional $50 million in sales but they have been quite clear how they want to achieve it – and why – so only focusin on their desire to “re-claim and overhaul their brand position as the leading global retailer within the fast fashion market” it all feels quite put many of the judges off from page 2. Not great.

The other thing is your view that the brand is a barrier.

Is that true? It doesn’t sound like that’s a juicy problem to solve compared to – for example – stopping Uniqlo being the default destination for fast fashion.

You touch on this, but you don’t commit and that’s a shame because it would have potentially made your ‘People’s Fashion’ idea even more powerful.

People generally liked that idea, but everyone felt you didn’t push it far enough – the blog is not really going to drive the concept plus you ignored many of the apps that are already in the public arena that could have helped your goal.

That said, we could all tell what you were trying to do and while it didn’t come out as compelling as we would have liked, the idea was one that every judge talked about – so well done, because they’re all a bunch of cynical bastards.


A crisp and direct presentation but we would have liked to have seen a bit more investigation into the business issue.

Rather than make H&M ‘a stronger fashion brand’, they wanted to be cool … and while it could be argued your expression has more validity, it still doesn’t capture the heart of what they wanted to achieve.

We liked the tension you found between stuffy fashion culture and the youthful energy of the audience – especially as that creates a real role for basketball – and your observation about shoes was interesting [Fashionistas liking stilettos because they’re ridiculous] but you didn’t really take it anywhere and that’s a shame because it could have been really great.

To be honest, that was the general feeling of all the judges … you had identified a number of very thought provoking considerations but when it came to pulling it all together, it didn’t seem to have any connection to what you’d set up and what was there felt flat and contrived.

Apart from making sure that what you set up flows like a story – rather than separate chapters – remember that being short and creative in your pitches should not be at the expense of commercial understanding and strategic sense.

Tighten this up and the difference will be significant.


This was a real mixed bag.

There were some very good things … like articulating what you thought the heart of the objective was as well as listing what will – and won’t – work, but there were some bad elements such as not explaining why ‘making H&M more interesting’ was the right thing to do or why ‘style leadership’ was the strategic answer they were looking for.

That said, you identified – albeit via a Pope question – that the budget was small so you a radical approach was needed, but everyone felt you just were throwing out ideas rather than explaining why that would actually generate the sort of response the client wanted.

As I said, it was a real mixed bag – some lovely things and some that definitely need working on – so maybe next time, you need to run your presentation by someone as they might identify some of the questions we had before you submit.

Talking of questions, some of yours were really good, especially number 1. Good work.

4. HM V2

While a lot of what was said in this submission was right, it was expressed in quite a flat manner – leaving people nodding but not excited.

For example, defining the problem as basically ‘we’re not as cool as everyone else’ doesn’t really give people a challenge they can get their teeth into, unless you’re a designer.

Talking of design, you were one of the people who suggested you knew more about design than H&M.

You said it was based on research but we didn’t really see any. That said, we liked the idea of the ‘city specific’ shoes, but as one of the judges stated – the cost and distribution hell that it would cause means the price would definitely have to be increased.

A couple of your executional ideas were interesting because they were based on what the audience do and where they go, but it also made us question your voting idea because quite frankly, it pales in comparison next to the other two.

At the end of the day, your idea was entirely based on associating with designers and if H&M said they weren’t going to do that, you would be out of the running immediately. It’s because of this that we think your proposal was more executional than strategic and so you need to think a bit more higher level before you get to the ideas, even though some of those were very nice.


There were some good elements to this … you clearly framed the task and you talked about a real link between basketball and fashion … but overall, it felt quite generic as a ‘youth’ strategy and overall, very risky given it sounded like you were advocating going head-to-head with NIKE, Adidas, Converse and countless others who have been in Basketball for decades, have untold levels of credibility and a much bigger ad budget.

Which leads to the ‘Be Baller’ idea.

Quite frankly it’s not a strategic idea, it’s a creative expression.

Because of this, it starts to feel very preachy, which doesn’t seem a good idea given you identified self expression as key driver against the target audience.

In essence, you set things up quite nicely – albeit without much evidence of how you got there – but when it came to what the client really was looking for, you left them scratching their head both in terms of the contradictions you seem to be amplifying and the strategy you are recommending.


We really liked that you identified that one of the core problems that H&M face is that they have made their fortune copying and now it’s time to lead.

That’s a great point and one that made all the judges nod in agreement … but then the rest of the presentation seems to jump around without any real flow or insights, meaning we had to keep going back and forth to see if we had missed something.

You were also someone who suggested collaboration was the key – but you didn’t really explain how that would benefit H&M other than ‘cool by association’ which seemed to be completely counter to what you said they had to do to move forward.

We all feel that if you had structured the submission better – and grounded it on facts and insight – this would have been much better but while you had some good elements, like the comms strat and the suggested measurement criteria [even though they felt quite superficial], we were left feeling that you didn’t really appreciate the objective or the culture.


One of the judges said, “This is the first person who actually understands the fundamentals of business management” … which is a wonderful compliment.

He then added, “… but he doesn’t understand the communication industry” … which just about sums up what everyone thought of this submission.

Slides 1 to 8 were fantastic, albeit ugly.

You challenged the brief … the thinking behind the brief and the issues relating to cool.

You also provided a very clear and concise answer to what was necessary – be interesting not cool – but after that, it all seemed to go a bit awry … hell, you didn’t even bother doing the 5 questions.

The strategy for moving forward felt weak and wasn’t based on insights. In addition, it seemed like you were advocating doing what H&M are doing already, only more often.

It’s almost like you felt telling the client their RFP was wrong was enough.

It’s not, but great work on the set up – for what it’s worth – I would be proud of that.


There was a lot to like about this presentation.

First, it was nicely laid out.

Then you clearly articulated the problem H&M face as well as highlighted a simple – yet effective – role for the soon-to-be-launched basketball shoe … ‘get H&M talked about’.

We really liked the ‘narrow and wide’ audience segmentation and we loved the way you explored what used to make them great – this is never done enough in strategic thinking and it really stood out.

Pulling it altogether with the observation “a shoe can’t do it, but the idea can” was wonderful.

To be honest, the whole thing flowed and the only criticism was that numbering shoes 1 to 1,000,000 wouldn’t really make them sound as unique as you are trying to imply [not to mention it sounds like you don’t have faith in what they would design] plus the ‘find your sole mate’ idea was nothing more than a PR stunt.

That doesn’t mean it was wrong, but it took away something from the rest of your hard work.

But this was good. Really good.


First of all it was 26 pages long, which immediately means it would be thrown out.

If you think we’re being petty, you haven’t done enough RFP’s. Or worked with German clients!

That aside, you have covered a lot of stuff here – but it all feels like you’re trying to show how much work you’ve done rather than convey information that a client would find interesting in relation to their business challenge.

One thing that would help is to drop the planner language bullshit.

I fucking hate all that … if your mother wouldn’t understand it, then it’s complicated for the sake of being complicated and unless your mother is a planner at FutureBrand, then I would say she wouldn’t understand it.

While you have a lot of information, the flow doesn’t always connect up.

We still aren’t sure how you got to the Maverick/Hunter stuff and while it all seem like fun, it’s a territory that many bigger – and higher spending – clients operate in plus we still don’t know what it has to do with basketball.

Good stuff, but it would be even better if you didn’t complicate it with poncy language and a bit of brain ego.

By all means be clever, but let others make that judgement rather than feel that’s what you’re trying to make them think.


From a personal point of view, this submission made me smile and angry.

It made me smile because you cheekily said ‘See handout for methodology & results’.

It’s utter bullshit, but I admire the fact you know we would want to see you actually did some work to make your views rather than just make your views.

That said, you made me HATE you when you came up with your own terminology.

Yes, you apologised in advance but ‘microllaborations’ is complete bollocks both in terms of the expression and the fact you are openly questioning H&M’s ability to design credible fashion items.

You were saved from my wrath because you clearly reframed the goal as ‘gain cred with influencers’ and had a clear- if arguable – point of view that ‘H&M is nothing without collaborations’.

The last page is great, but it doesn’t make up for the fact you didn’t include the 5 questions.


Another presentation that has been designed – good work.

So you lay out the challenge clearly but your ‘strategy’ – steal from Adidas Originals [etc] by connecting to them better – doesn’t feel like it’s a strategy, more of a tactic.

Don’t get us wrong, that might drive sales, but it doesn’t feel the sort of thing that will create a clear positioning for the brand in its own right.

To be honest, it felt like you wanted to get to the executional thoughts and the set-up pages were simply to justify your submission.

Without doubt, some of your ideas are lovely, but we’re just not sure that your ‘strategy’ or the ‘insight’ you use to justify them are believable. Sorry.


So this started off really well.

You framed the the challenge and the target really well.

You identified the tension in the audience that would automatically give your idea some genuine energy and provocation – which is a great thing.

We even liked the ‘restrictor’ to ‘enabler’ but some of the judges felt this strategy was already in existence in some markets – with brands like Uniqlo and Zara.

Some of the executional ideas were nice but the overall impression was that while the thinking and presentation flowed and – to a large degree – made sense, it all felt a bit ‘been there, done that’.

Now the reality is there are a lot of brands that would buy this thinking, but the judges – while positively acknowledging what you did – wouldn’t.

You need to find ways to inject some more inventiveness into your ideas – or should I say, execution thoughts – because ultimately, they were the things people felt they’d seen before which did your upfront thinking a disservice.


So again, there was some great set up points in this presentation.

You clearly framed the problem and highlighted that they are losing their traction with young, high spenders and we LOVED the way you defined H&M as ‘The World’s Clothing Warehouse’ … that set up the issue and the challenge really, really well.

You also get extra points for using ‘quotes’ to make your point, it really helped get your view across and added an air of credibility. Nice work.

There was a bit of debate as regards your ‘trend hunter’ idea.

Some really liked it because it was credible and interesting. Others didn’t because they felt it was already occupied by brands like Zara and potentially positioned H&M as the World’s biggest imitator.

At the end of the day, your presentation made sense and it flowed – which is worthy of praise – but the end result didn’t quite meet the expectations you had set us up to expect.

Which is quite a compliment really.

14. KAY TO

Another presentation that exceeded the allowed number of pages.

Watch out for this, it’s a serious thing – even if you think what you’re saying is the answer to the Universe.

The overall judges viewpoint of this presentation was that while you directly challenged the meaning of ‘cool’, it ended up recommended a position that H&M already occupy – the democratiser of fashion.

As a presentation, it felt more like a written proposal.

We could see you were telling a story but it was difficult to ascertain what the specific points you were trying to make for H&M.

Talking about other brands is all well and good, but using a brand that plays in a very niche territory [Benetton] is probably not the best choice to prove your point. You also seemed to take an incredibly long time to get make the points you wanted to make.

At the end of the day, your idea sounded something many brands could claim and there was basically no commentary about the basketball shoes which means you either missed the point of the brief or got to wrapped up in your own idea.

Even though the RFP was full of contradictions, ignoring ket parts of it without explaining why you’re doing it, not only undermines your position but creates immediate animosity between you and the client.


Great design – it made us want to like your presentation from the start.

We really liked that you identified relevance as a key issue and the fact H&M just aren’t special anymore and you did it in a clear and flowing way.

While it was smart to not go head to head with brands that have basketball in their DNA … going into the fashion angle of basketball through athletes is, by default, going head to head with the brands that have basketball in their DNA as well as high fashion brands.

Players like Kevin Durant definitely try to flaunt their fashion chops, but what this does is play to a World of niche designers and/or established high end fashion houses who create products to reflect the unique personalities of the players.

At it’s heart, baller fashion labels are all about credibility and exclusivity – both a long way from the fast fashion offering H&M is all about.

So great work on the set up, but the strategy doesn’t seem to have been thought through enough – at least from a genuine baller lifestyle association perspective.


Using Northern’s comms strategy chart to get on his good side was both smart and toady.

You made some great observations about HM and had some lovely analysis of the real role of basketball shoes have in people’s lives.

[Though why do you seem to be only targeting men?]

In some respects, you were the only person who properly considered what 1,000,000 shoes sales would look like – especially compared to the dominant competitor of NIKE.

To be honest, there was little we could disagree with – it was all clear and insightful – but we don’t know whether it actually would answer the ‘make us cool’ objective.

It was certainly the most solid strategy we read and you had some lovely stuff in there [From the strategically rich “It’s Where They Take You” territory to the Kickstarter/donation idea to the role of the retail store] … but despite that, we were all left with the impression that while we liked what you said, you hadn’t actually said what we asked you to respond to.

That said, having seen you do these assignments over the years, the growth – without wishing to sound patronising – is great which is why I am sure that if this was a real RFP, we’d invite you back for more talks, but ask you to be more specific in answering our objective.


THis was clear, concise and pacey. Nice.

You had some lovely observations about how culture encourages people to be creative but it’s actually quite hard to be self expressive.

You also acknowledged you were going to target men and women. Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people create barriers that aren’t actually there.

You also get extra points for considering KPI’s, something most clients want and all agencies should give but – and I appreciate this is quite a personal comment – the colour idea, while campaignable, interesting and fun – has been done to death for everyone from Converse, and Adidas to Uniqlo and recently, Beats.

While no one should allow competitors to decide your strategy, when it comes to execution – steering clear from what has gone on before, especially if it’s in a similar category or targeting a similar audience – is a must.

Unless the client is a parity peddling prat.


First of all, another presentation with design. Good on you.

This is a really punchy presentation with the clarity that people who send out RFP’s want.

Seriously, imagine getting 40 presentations back … you’d definitely remember – or notice – the one’s that look good and/or get straight to the point.

Though quite frankly, if you send an RFP out to 40 agencies, you get what you deserve. But I digress.

There were some lovely things in this – we especially liked the ‘agile fashion’ angle however, and this is a major issue, we don’t know how you got to that.

One of the judges – who admittedly is a hard bastard – said, “Stating H&M lacks relevance with the influencer set does not make it true.” He then added, “… how is making H&M cool, creating relevance?”

It appears that in your haste to get to the point, you forgot to take the readers along for the journey – which is a shame, because this had the possibility of being something great when what it ended up being, was a presentation that made the judges want to ask you a lot of questions.

And not in a good way.

Oh, and you forgot the 5 questions.

Lot of potential with this, but sadly, you probably wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to turn it into a reality.


The overriding impression the judges felt about this submission was that you were trying awfully hard to sound intellectual.

That doesn’t mean they didn’t think you were clever, but it just felt a bit forced at times.

‘Thoughtfully hip leadership’ – however right that may be – sounds more like a dinner party conversation than a strategy.

When we managed to get past that, what we read was interesting.

We loved that you highlighted the contradictions in the brief and were going to focus on the element you believe was the most important.

Your analysis on ‘cool’ – as defined by the older sibling [methodology aside] – got the judges talking, though we all wanted this to be played into the strategy, which we didn’t feel it did.

There were a lot of commentary about the use of, for want of a better expression, CSR in the strategy.

Ten out of ten for fighting for something important, but without validation that the target audience would indeed regard this as ‘cool’, it came across as idealist rather than commercialist.

That might sound cold, but your job is to prove it’s validity not say it is.

There were plenty of good ideas here, but your overuse of buzz/intelligencia language put a lot of the judges off. As did the lack of clearly articulating how this strategy would shift product.

One very senior and experienced judge said, “When he starts to include commercial realism into his thinking, he will be fantastic.”

This is both a compliment and a very good piece of advice.

Please don’t mistake us as saying you shouldn’t be trying to find ways to help society while helping companies – far from it, after all, I was talking about social capaitalism 10 years ago – it’s just that the only way you’re going to achieve it is if you embrace the commercial requirements of the client, rather than only pay lip service to it.


First of all, congratulations on using the first page to get things moving straight away.

Sure, it could have been done in a more creatively interesting way – pushing your strategy rather than the way you’ve approached the RFP – but good on you for doing it.

So this was a very interesting submission because quite frankly, the answer was a bit mad.

Now there is good and bad in that sort of response because while you didn’t take the judges on the journey that helped them understand why this was the right thing to do – or even what you were actually suggesting – we all wondered what we had missed because as crazy as it sounded, it certainly stood out from pretty much every other submission.

Now I have the advantage of knowing what you were thinking because you wrote to me after you submitted your assignment to explain it.

The disappointing thing is you didn’t do that in the actual submission.

Without doubt you would need to work very, very hard to both explain and justify this route, but it certainly was a unique approach and far more powerful than the Benetton strategy which is basically go for shock value with no follow through.

The best advice we can give is that you need to take people on a better journey to your idea.

We got very confused and while we accept there may be a language/translation issue, we still spent more time scratching our head than we should.

That said – and it’s important you remember this Tomas – pushing boundaries is a great thing, so you must not take this feedback as anything other than finding a better way to explain your strategy.

Not writing it as a paper would help because word documents encourage you to waffle on.

The best compliment I can give is that you remind me a bit of a guy that used to come on this blog a lot – Niko – because he had all these mad, crazy ideas … except the difference was he was better at explaining them and articulating them.

He’s now running his own company and discovering just what he’s capable of doing and being.

That’s something everyone should aspire to do and I believe this is within your reach.

What you need to do is practice.

Keep pushing things and aiming higher – but practice articulating your idea so that it is easily understood and then practice how to get the evidence needed so that people don’t see it as crazy, but as commercially wonderful.


So there you go, that’s the feedback.

We normally have a winner but no one submission really ticked all the boxes however, as it’s nearly Christmas and we’re feeling generous, we’ve decided to award a prize to the entries we felt best achieved one of the following:

1. Challenging the brief.
2. Articulating the strategy [even if we didn’t completely agree with it]
3. Clarity of argument [even if we didn’t completely agree with it]

… and so if Duncan, Thomas Wagner and Niklas & Bjorn email me with their addresses, I’ll send you all a little something in the new year.

To everyone who took part, I hope you found the challenge interesting and the feedback constructive … I’d certainly be very interested to hear what you think and, if you accept the advice, how it has [hopefully] improved what you do.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to write to me but as it’s Christmas very soon, I might take a little longer to get back to you, so I apologise in advance.

I could write more but this is already the longest post in the World, so I’d like to thank the judges for sparing their valuable time to go through every entry and then their generosity in passing on their experience and wisdom, I’d like to thank WARC for all their help and contribution to this assignment and I’d like to thank everyone who took part … I hope it was fun and you feel you got something out of it.

Right, I’m off so until the next A[P]SOTW assignment, sometime in the new year …

Ta-ra and thanks again.


PS: For the record, this post is 5,885 words long. And doesn’t it feel like it, ha!

57 Comments so far
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I don’t know whether I should congratulate everyone who took part or Rob, for writing this mamoth post. Both are equally impressive feats and I haven’t even read this post yet. Looking forward to hearing what people did and what the judges felt needed to be done.

This is a great thing you, Gareth and Andrew do.

Comment by Pete

Make it stop. STOP. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.

Comment by DH

If the CIA used this post on that guy in homeland, they wouldn’t be in this mess and they’d be able to get rid of that ex romeo and juliet trouble making nutcase once and for all. Fact.

Comment by Billy Whizz

This made me laugh out loud. Now I feel dirty.

Comment by Rob

Size matters.

Comment by john

That’s what she said. Boom Tish.

Comment by Rob

That is a massive post of feedback. I know there were 20 submissions but that is still huge. I’ve not gone through every presentation so I can’t judge if I agree with the comments but given the quality of the jury, I’m sure they’re being fair and constructive.

I also love the additional pointers you give in this post. The importance of truth, clarity and responsiblity and the reminder that if you venture into unfamiliar territory, you have to be sure to justify your response to ensure it doesn’t come across as a decision of ego.

So much good stuff in here. I hope everyone gets something out of it. I did and I didn’t even do it.

Comment by Pete

When I first read the RFP, I knew you had set it up to see if anyone would respond in the way I know you would do.

Congratulations Duncan, that’s a good thing you did there.

Responding to RFP’s don’t show values, they reveal values.

Comment by Pete

Hang on a minute. You’re off? In what sense? Not another holiday.

Comment by john

after wetting that fucking diatribe the fucker probably needs a month to recover. i know i bastard do.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s Christmas, of course I’m off … at least this time it’s legitimate.

Comment by Rob

fuck me. ive just been brain raped.

Comment by andy@cynic

thats the most productive thing you might have done this fucking decade.

Comment by andy@cynic

all i want to know is if any fucker told the client they were fucking on meths with their brief or if they all thought an ad would make everything all fucking right.

if the former, theres hope in the world. if the latter, they need a kicking.

how many suggested new designers? go on campbell, tell me how many thought they had the right to get h&m to scrap everything theyd made to produce a new line of hipster bollocks straight out the mind of a planners ego.

schoolboy error.

fuck, this means i have to read this post. thats total bollocks. isnt there someone i can pay to do that for me?

anyway, to all the fuckers who took part, well fucking done. putting yourself in the line of fire with those bastard judges takes balls. despite a fuckload of them being planners, they know good shit from bad shit so dont throw your toys out the pram and listen. it could have been a fuckload worse, i could have been a judge and youd all be whimpering for your mummy and daddys if that was the case.

good on you judge fuckers. this sort of shit takes time but its good for their career and stopping creatives lamping the fuckers for egotistical and nonfuckingsensical planning shite.

happy bastard christmas.

Comment by andy@cynic

You could still be a judge.

Comment by john

i always judge.

Comment by andy@cynic

Congratulations to all who took part.

Excellent feedback Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

Thank you and the judges for the feedback, and sorry for putting Andrew’s slide in there. I needed a summary slide and it came in handy. Honestly.

One of the first thing I’d have done was ask my team how ballsy we want to respond – how much we can “dare” to challenge it.

I simply didn’t think that 1) “being cool” was or a real objective (relevance is, but H&M still has it imho), 2) necessary for what H&m does and 3) they would have no chance in for-purpose basketball shoes in the short term but a commercial opportunity in sneakers. Taking the opportunity is the objective I tried to answer to.

I focused on guys because they are the ones where I assume H&M’s barriers to shoes are. Girls are already buying shoes there, even if it’s only a hardly used 3rd or 4th pair. (Anecdotal evidence only …). No idea where that came from.

Comment by Thomas

Hello mate … glad you understand where we were coming from with the feedback.

I would say it is not a question of being ‘ballsy’, but of being professional … because what H&M were asking for in their RFP was full of contradiction and delusion and ultimately, if you won the pitch on your recommendation, you would be blamed when things didn’t quite turn out as they hoped.

That said, you did a great job and while I still don’t buy your “but girls are buying shoes from there anyway”, I still loved what you did and feel quite honoured to see how much you have developed in the time you have been doing these assignments.

I know that makes me sound like a Dad, but it’s true.

You’ll have to email me your address so I can sort out your gift in the new year … so till then, relax and have a great first Singaporean Christmas.

Comment by Rob

Epic post with great feedback on interesting proposals. I particularly like the “what gives you the right to say you can design basketball shoes better than a basketball shoe designer” comment. That’s not strategy, that’s execution.

Comment by Bazza

Rob, judges, thank you very much for doing this. For the guy like me who lives in Lithuania where there are 15 agencies and 2 planners throughout all of them, it’s a great opportunity to experience the actual work (or at least a part of it) and getting the feedback from professionals like you is not an everyday opportunity too, so ye, thanks, good work guys :]

Comment by toto

“No one requested to see the product. No one.” That’s not true. My first question to the client was exactly this.

Comment by toto

Apologies. No one but one. Good on you …

Comment by Rob

apologies accepted!

Comment by toto

That was my first question as well “How does the shoe look like?” Meaning: “Can I see it?”
Thanks a lot Rob + all other judges.

Comment by philipdm

I’m going to be a bit petty here because asking “what does the shoe look like” is actually different to asking to see the shoe.

Touching, trying, experimenting with the product is much, much better than just basing everything on photos and client testimony.

In fact I am shocked how few planners want to experience the client environment … talk to their people … go out in their stores … talk to their customers. Let me tell you, the difference it makes is massive which is why the words, “Can I try/see the product” is much more important to me than simply saying, “what does it look like”.

Yes, I know you’re saying your interpretation was to actually ‘try’ the product, but as I said in the general feedback, don’t let people misinterpret your words.

Good work though.

Comment by Rob

great stuff … interesting that no one mentioned And1 and Li-ning, the challenger brands

Comment by zeljko

Do you mean Anta?

To be fair, they are mainly Chinese based competitors – at least for now – but yes, the focus was definitely on the ‘usual suspects’ which is dangerous in itself.

Comment by Rob

I don’t know about Anta but Li-ning is already involved in the NBA:). And1 historically had one of the more interesting strategies – they had no $$ to fight the big boys so they got into streetball and produced and1 mixtapes which were viral before the internet era. I am aware that H&M is more about fashion but that direction seems like bandwagoneering – even LA Gear is back in the same fashion game LA Gear Originals?!?).

Comment by zeljko

Li-Ning have been involved in the NBA for a while and your point about them not having much money until relatively recently is wrong … they have always been incredibly well funded – their issue was they didn’t have the credibility for NBA stars to sign on … but that has changed, especially with their ever-increasing amount of sponsorship cash, ha.

But I get your point. Honest.

Comment by Rob

And sorry, I am so stuck in China mode I thought you had made a spelling error. Of course it’s And 1 … I need a holiday!

Comment by Rob

Well done to all the entrants.
Excellent feedback Robert, when Dan finally loses patience you really could be a great teacher.
Anyone in this business should read the work and then the feedback, most would learn something valuable

Comment by northern

I always liked that Bogusky case study when they dug into the culture around street basketball and got And 1 to be the first to overtly link basketball to hip hop- and put music videos in the shoe boxes

Comment by northern

Wow, props to you Rob; epic post and lots of great lessons for everyone who took part.

One suggestion i would make… and you’ll probably want to fly to London (for free obvs) and punch me in the face because it means more work for you, haha…

I think something that would help all entrants a lot, is after you set these assignments, you (or one of the judges) produce your own deck at a level you would hope for entrants to aspire to, maybe not as polished as it would normally be, but at least something that shows…

– how you would of kicked it off, digesting the problem

– the right questions to ask and when to ask them

– how you would navigate through setting up your strategic argument and then transition into some creative thoughts + including all the little tricks in-between

That way, those that enter can not only get feedback on their own work, but then see how a pro would have tackled it, literally in design and strat execution.

One of the things that juniors and people trying to break into planning really struggle with is exposure to thought processes and how clients and adland expect you to frame an argument.

It would be ace to read feedback from you saying “you didn’t show us how you got there” and then be able to click through a deck written by you (or another judge) showing how YOU would “get there”.

Of course there is not a static formula to answer these types of problems – every brief is unique – but as you alluded to in your feedback, there’s probably a few key stepping stones every planner should use to help them interrogate and attack every brief. It would be great to see them in action!

You hate me now don’t you?

Comment by Age

campbells only written 3 presentations in his fucking life so find one of them on here, change the name and hey fucking presto, you have the answer.

only original bit hed have is the bitching at the beginning that the brief was contradictory and fucked up. dont think he wouldnt, ive seen the prick act like jeremy fucking paxman asking a client over and over afuckingain to prove their numbers arent from fantasyland. hes almost scary. for an italian.

Comment by andy@cynic

Spare us a complete deck, but Age has a point. Given that the RFP is contradictory, where is the planner to look for his/her beloved insights? In the arena of basketball shoes and their wearers? Around the nature of coolness? Or in what people think about H&M and/or fast fashion? And how do chey start uncovering them? That could be very informative (I said could, Andy).

Comment by John

I took one look at those entries on slideshare and got a headache. I will look at them all but it’s going to take a long time, so thanks to all the judges for doing this. You’ve got more stamina than me and I agree with everybody above who says the criticism is smart and useful.

As for my own effort, there atually are five questions for H&M in the slides, they’re just not on a separate list. Yes, you specified we ask 5 questions, but does that have to be on a separate slide? I always think that lists get skimmed but questions in context are more likely to be considered. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

I’m not a planner and added the last few slides just to show that I understood you have to offer solutions – even if these ones weren’t thought through and deserved the criticism they got. I was going to write something about going bacHennes originally meaning value

My research was ethnographically based. For the first time in my life I went into two H&Ms and was shocked by the tacky signage and the feel of a cramped Primark rather than the Zara clone I’d expected from their communications. They’re clearly all about cheap fashion and that’s what their customers like, but to hope that $3million will enable them to differentiate themselves and be cool is just a joke. It would just be more dishonesty.

The solution to that RFP is corporate-level strategic not communications or am I wrong about that? Is there a communications based solution?

Thanks again to the judges – I look forward to receiving my MacbookPro, my lifetime Virgin flight pass and an annual supply of Nike products as I understand from reading your blog that this is what you consider to be “a little something”.

Comment by Duncan

well you can certainly come fucking back with pisstaking of that standard. and from a standing fucking start. excellent work.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’m enjoying this

Comment by northern

Excellent feedback Robert. Congratulations to everyone who took part.

I disagree with Age that Rob should supply a deck for people to learn from. As I understand it, the point of this “school” is to improve rather than to spoon feed, which I feel the feedback and the additional commentary by Robert, does very well.

To quote a Wiedenism, this is about honing your strategic voice, not replicating Robert and the judges. Just my opinion, Robert may disagree.

Comment by George

He may also produce a response that the other judges dismiss, which while amusing, may confuse even more.

Comment by George

Which, for the record Robert, I very much doubt. You are very good at the art of strat deck creation. Insanely good.

Comment by George

thats the fucking truth.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi there …

To be honest, I agree with George – and not just because you’d all laugh at my attempt of a presentation.

The purpose of APSOTW is to help people practice and develop rather than create ‘a way’ that everyone follows. There’s already a lack of personality in advertising without me contributing to it.

I’ve given the majority of my feedback in the World’s longest post but to be clear, the main things I would have done are:

1. Highlight the contradictions in the RFP. [From the goal to the expectation to the highly cluttered – and credible – completive set to the fact 50 million dollars of sale will not create the change they seek]

2. Given the observations I’ve made in point 1, discuss the factors I will be basing my response on. [Including quantifying and qualifying our meaning of ‘cool’ so it can have some sort of commercial value, not just aesthetic approach]

3. Talk about H&M’s market situation and challenge – both directly and indirectly. [ie: Who views H&M as a competitor]

4. Talk about the audience and the cultural tensions they face … from fashion to work to ambitions to delusions.

5. Explore the role of basketball [and basketball shoes] both in our audiences lives and culture as a whole. Discuss whether this will address the issue of our audience – and H&M – face and if not, the role it could play in helping lead to a point where we can address the bigger challenge.

6. Identify the core tension point the business should focus on.

7. Detail the strategy that we will use to exploit/challenge this.

8. Create 3 ideas that bring this to life … of which one would be the retail environment and one would be in the digital environment. I would then explain how each piece fits together to bring the short and medium terms goals one step closer to being fixed.

Everything would be underpinned by data, insights and quotes and I would start selling my ‘strategy’ from the very first slide.

That’s probably how I’d do it … rightly or wrongly.

Comment by Rob


I did question whether to write my above commet or not, mainly because yes, it would seem like spoon feeding and i’m sure people would take it and apply the structure to whatever brief comes next – which of course would be foolish.

I agree, writing a deck is prob extreme and unnecessary, but I still think there is value in sharing how you would structure the argument, like you did above. For junior planners wanting to see what this lark is all about, who might be struggling to be given a chance to break into an agency and be exposed to this stuff, your advice is golden because it shows them the level of thinking they should be aspiring to.

Anyways all, have a Merry Xmas!

Comment by Age

It was a fair comment – don’t apologise for it.

Hopefully the overview of how I would approach things will help, but the key is that there is no all encompassing process.

I’m sure if you asked the other judges, they would have other approaches – however I do think the key is to approach the business problem before you get to the creative solution .., which, for all the talk adland likes to spout, still is only given lip service which is mad given that if you want to deal with the ‘ultimate decision makers’, they want to talk about their business, not their ads.

This might sound horrible to some, but I would remind people that greatness rarely happens if you haven’t convinced people that what you’re suggesting makes commercial sense rather than creative indulgence.

Merry Christmas to you matey.

Comment by Rob

Oh that’s definitely the right way to do it Robert. In fact, I wish you to do the finished presentation now you have tempted me with your overview.
You have an incredible talent for creating presentations that convey complex strategies in intriguing, entertaining and commercially astute ways. It’s definitely a skill I wish I had but I consider myself fortunate that I was able to witness you create so many of them first hand over the years.

Comment by George

all this nicey nice shit wont get you a present from the tight fuck so you might as well drop it and get back to treating him like the little bitch he is. anyway, it would only be a fucking queen album so it wouldnt be worth the effort anyway.

but yes, he does good presentation bollocks and the quality went up ten million bastard percent the moment he stopped using fucking impact. thank you dan wieden. taking campbell away from us normal people and broadening his font usage is nobel worthy.

Comment by andy@cynic

Many thanks Rob and Co for the task and feedback – it was always my belief that overly intellectualised non-commercial shite was like candy to a baby for multi-nationals. I’ll save it for the ladies. Have a tough love Christmas you heartless bastards. Cheers, Sid.

Comment by Sid

with an attitude like that, you can come here afuckingain.

Comment by andy@cynic

Apologies, I must have been drunk on the buzz of a public seasonal kicking. Shame Mum missed out this year. Can I ask opinions to doing the APG conversion course in London? I’m not sure how frequent the APSTOW projects are, and as I’m not yet a planner it’d be good to get more exposure to the process before finding an opening somewhere – although I take it the guy with deluded expectation in my future fantastic will be slapping down an offer in the New Year. Cheers again Rob and panel, your time is much appreciated (and compared at APG prices, a total bargain).

Comment by Sid

APG is great. It’s also very structured so I would say you have to work out what you want to get out of it rather than just say that’s the course for you.

Personally, I never did the APG – not just because I am incredibly old – but because my original bosses wanted to expose me to many ways to approach strategy so that I would [potentially] find a new way to bring elements together. A planning magpie, if you will. Whether that worked is anyone’s guess, but if you define what you want to get out of it, you will be able to judge whether it’s what you should do.

God that was a long answer wasn’t it. Sorry.

Comment by Rob

if you want to be like every other fucker, follow what every other fucker does. if you dont, dont.

bollocks to that “know the rules to break the rules” shit, it only works if the rules youve learnt are from someone who didnt follow the rules either or they fucking get inside and eat your soul.

campbell might be a weird fuck, but he can fucking make it sound normal because to him it is normal. you dont get like that if you have formal fucking training. thats good for doctors but not for fucking adfucks.

that doesnt mean you need to like queen and dress like a twat. it also doesnt mean you can ignore whatever the fuck you dont like. it means you see different ways to get where everyone wants to fucking go and thats about living a fucked up life not following a process.

by the way, you owe me $100,000 for that advice and campbell owes me $1,000,000. $200k for the compliment, $800k for diddling me out of my fucking share of the profits. he knows what im banging on about.

bye bitches. have a pleasant few weeks of getting fucked up on santas orders.

ps. auntie is fucked up in ways no bastard ever wants to know. he is not nice. he is a twisted fuck. dont let the yoda nice guy act fool you for one fucking second. and pete. fucking mental. its the only way i could put up with them. and dont get me started on midget bazza. fuck me, what a bastard sicko.

Comment by andy@cynic

A compliment from you unnerves me. Even though it is the most back handed compliment of the year.

Comment by Pete

Thanks Rob – in the absence of a magpie instilling boss I’ll take a shot at the conversion.

Comment by Sid

This might come kind of late but still, many thanks to you and the judges for taking time to feedback! Yes you are right – time to re-think about how to revisit & improve the ideas and (honestly) putting more time into coming up with the ideas.

Comment by Miki Sim Li Fen (@dooodleslove)

You’re very kind, but it’s all in our interests so I’m just glad you feel it is of benefit. See you next time.

Comment by Rob

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