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

Why Kodak Could Only Capture Moments, Not Memories.
January 31, 2013, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment


One of the most overused terms ever known.

It’s up there with ‘love’ and ‘revolution’ and ‘fun’ … and like those words, quite often it’s used in either the wrong context or with absolutely no understanding of what it actually is.

My basic rules of what constitutes an insight are:

+ They are about WHY people do or think or act in a particular way, NOT a descriptor of what they do, think or act.

+ If should take no more than 2 sentences – at most – to explain.

+ In a perfect world – when they hear it – people should nod, smile and say an enthusiastic “yes, that’s so true”.

Now I know some of adland think ‘insight’ is old, boring and creativity limiting – but I couldn’t disagree more.

In fact, I find it laughable that so many people are banging on about ‘global consumer truths’ … because if anything is limiting, it’s that.

It’s also utterly wrong because the way people express those ‘global human truths’ is very dependent on economy, culture, background, societal expectation etc etc.

In my experience, an insight is utterly liberating …

It gives you something you can grasp on to … something you can push up against … something that can create an idea with inherent tension, not just stating the bleeding obvious.

That said, I do agree there’s no such thing as ‘one super insight’

As I said 5 years ago, insights can come from many places and in my opinion, the problem is that too few people are willing to actually go looking for them … preferring to sit in the comfort of their office, hanging out with like-minded individuals and rehashing some research findings that were ultimately designed to confirm rather than reveal.

Ooooh, I got a bit feisty there didn’t I. Apologies.

Anyway, the reason I am saying all this is because I just read something from Alain de Botton that I loved:

OK, that quote doesn’t really explain ‘why’ our childhood is connected to biscuits, light, smell & textures – but lets be honest, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what he’s saying.

While a photo may stimulate certain memories of our childhood, it doesn’t do it with the all-encompassing power of smell, touch, taste & sound.

A lot of this is, in my view, connected to ‘frames of reference’ – those early experiences that set the benchmark/agenda for how you view situations/products/categories in later life … which is why my childhood will always be connected to Bourbon Biscuits, Cans of Tizer, patterned carpet, a golden light streaming in my bedroom because my yellow curtains weren’t totally pulled together and the sound of the Flymo mower on a Sunday morning.

Good memories. Warm memories. Powerful memories.

Which I suppose means all those instagram photos we take have fuck all to do with us capturing future memories life and everything to do with being a generation of egomaniacs.

Damn those insights.

51 Comments so far
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Love bourbon biscuits. Good choice Rob.

Comment by Sam Tully

My childhood memories are full of shouting, disappointment and broken promises.

And what the fuck are bourbons?

Comment by Billy Whizz

I’m not sure if your comment is based from your perspective or your parents perspective.

Comment by Rob


Comment by Billy Whizz

See Pete’s comment. It sums tizer up brilliantly.

Comment by DH

Here’s an insight for you Rob. No one cares.

Comment by Billy Whizz

That’s not an insight, that’s a fact.

Comment by Rob

Most simple online sharing (tweets, Likes, instagrams etc) is self-referential.

Comment by John

Or applause seeking.

Comment by Pete

And most, if not all, memories are multi-sensorial.

Comment by John

I find the insight argument depressing. It’s similar to the planner discussion or the argument clients shouldn’t put mandatory requirements in the way of creative development.

People talk in such definitive terms but life isn’t like that. Quality, purpose, ambition always play a significant role in the standard of what is produced. Quality in. Quality out. Not always, I admit, but significantly more than when rubbish goes in.

Too many people offering too many new ways (DDB Stockholm) without understanding the old way can be amazing when it’s done to the highest of standards. Besides, many of the new ways are simply renaming the old process in an attempt to make their bad standards appear contemporary and innovative.

And surely commercial creativity is based on being able to overcome obstacles? I know you’ve said this before but I find the reluctance to embrace a client objective insulting. Again, there are good objectives and bad objectives but many question their validity regardless of the quality. Annoying.

This is a good post Robert. Sorry for the whine, it touched a nerve but you nursed it better with talk of e-number Tizer. The crystal meth of adolescence.

Comment by Pete

Feisty comment today Pete. And I agree with all you say. Anyone who believes acts of commercial activity should not have a clearly defined, concisely articulated goal attached to it, has either never run a business or has failed to grasp the business they are in.

Comment by George

Yes to this and Pete’s comment.

Funny you should mention the DDB Stockholm thing, I read it recently and was struck by how they’ve basically added process rather than – as they claim – taken it away while at the same time, advocating a view that regards ‘objective’ as objectionable.

Sure, some companies place pointless and ridiculous goals on their agencies – but they’re stupid for accepting them. A genuine and well articulated goal/obstacle doesn’t hinder creativity, it reveals it.

Comment by Rob

“Tizer. The crystal meth of adolescence” may be the best comment you’ve ever made Pete.

Comment by DH

And, if tonight’s Shoreditch gathering is anything to go by, the big downside of the obsession with the emperor’s new clothes is that people don’t learn the old stuff. Hence you get questions like “do you mean digital marketing or traditional marketing?”

Comment by John

I heard someone call it ‘new media’ yesterday. I wanted to keep my mouth shut, but I just couldn’t. It’s a bit like when people call it ‘digital marketing’ … no, it’s marketing … and anyone who doesn’t understand that is showing why you shouldn’t trust their judgement for helping their business.

Comment by Rob

@john @rob Somehow I’m beginning to make peace with the ‘digital’ prefix. Or maybe just reluctant acceptance. As a framing device perhaps it (slightly selfishly, noted) simply helps agency peeps to sell work. Client preferences are undoubtably frame-bound rather than reality bound. As long as the work is correct then how we frame it is part of the deal. As a bunch of douchebags we can argue the toss amongst ourselves for sure
@rob agreed though – the line has to be drawn somewhere and ‘new media’ is over the line.

Comment by Eaon Pritchard (@eaonp)

Excuse me whilst I cut my arse in half with fence-sitting; for what it’s worth I think both perspectives work.

Some people need the label to be assured that they are getting what they want, and it serves to define those who understand marketing as a purpose that engages any media from those who don’t.

It’s often human nature to have confidence in apparent specialism – the general builder won’t be good with wood – I’ll hire the joiner. ‘New media’ might refer to specialisms such as gestural recognition – or a few years ago, outdoor video, QR based interactivity etc.

But it seems to me we have a tendency to confuse technical ability with the creative/marketing that sits on top and so perception remains rooted in the selling/framing/marketing of our service/agency, not the doing. I’ve hired digital people – the idea sucks, but the coding’s slick as fuck.

Maybe if we all worked for ‘being aware of what’s possible’ agencies.

Comment by Sid

paint thinner, swatch watches with the elastic wrist band and roast chicken

Comment by niko

Great post Robert with an excellent quote. My memories would be a hotchpotch of Hula Hoop crisps, Iron Bru, Donkey Kong game and watch, green cord carpet and brown cord trousers (my mother was a big fan of cord material) with the sound of the washing machine permanently on the spin cycle.

Comment by George

So the colors of your childhood were orange, green and brown. Sums up the 70’s pretty well.

Comment by DH

That is so true Dave.

Comment by Rob

A stable. 3 blokes with presents. Some nails. A pissed off father with a weird one name, name.

Comment by Jesus

Have you forgotten the millions of delusional people that followed you? Or the water into wine trick? If I did that, that might be the only thing I’d remember.

You’re not really Jesus are you?

Comment by DH

Am I the only one unnerved by yellow curtains?

Comment by John

Normally I’d share your concern, but it’s not really that surprising where Rob is concerned is it.

Comment by DH

I have just seen your post for Tina. I didn’t know her, but reading her blog has revealed a woman of great strength and character. My thoughts are with her and her family.

Comment by George

I like de Botton. He might be prone to the odd moment of pretentious posturing, but he makes sense and he forces you to think and reconsider. The advertising industry could do with remembering the power of adopting this stance. Enjoyable read. My condolences to Tina’s family.

Comment by Lee Hill

You’re right Lee, that is something we should remember. Especially planners who seem to becoming more about repackaging than planning.

Comment by Rob

People use faded 70’s effect on Instagram because they want to believe those photos will be important to them in 40 years time. They won’t.

Comment by Shackleford Hurtmore

Not sure if I entirely agree – maybe it’s more because they think it adds gravitas to the photo they’ve taken that they hope will inspire countless people to comment on. What I do agree with you on is that ‘they won’t’.

Comment by Rob

It’s a quick and easy way to make a simple photograph look like it has more creativity than it does. But I don’t see it as a bad thing. People like to take pictures, and while I totally agree about the role other senses and elements play, anything that makes people feel happy about being creative and want to share that is good in my book.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I only read this now, sorry for my late reply. This (what memories are made of) is a subject I hold very dearly. And your post made me rethink a project I did when I was in artschool. During a three year hiatus from university I attented art school. One of the projects everybody had to do was do something with their childhood. I made a small installation which used mixed media (yes very avant garde). I tried to create some triggers that made you relive a moment. I recronstructed a moment I hoped everybody would know: gym class. I used smell (mixture of cleaning product, wood oil, rubber, sweat, and dirty socks), sound staged it in a hollow room, and I used feel (rubber of the balls, pieces of rope, leather used on equipment. It was an installation with very little light. Luckily most people made the connection, however, , everybody had very mixed memories and sentiments. Some people even became agitated and felt it was claustrophobic. But when I asked what was most convincing, they said the smell and the feel of the rubber surface. Funny isn’t it.

Comment by Paul

Ahead of your time Paul.

Comment by Rob

Interesting post Rob. I agree with both your view on insights and the multi sensory form of memories. My condolences about your friend Tina. It sounds like she went through a lot so at least she now has peace.

Comment by Bazza

Excellent work today folks
Only thing if add is Instagram et al has devalued imagery since it was once carefully considered and lovingly put in the album when you only had 36 shots per film
Also the mind plays tricks but photos manage to evoke the way we were however edited

Comment by Northern

It’s more than instagram. What about data storage? We no longer ‘curate’, we just store.

In some ways you could argue it paints a broader picture of the lives we lead, on the other hand, it just fills up our life with clutter and shows how much of our time gets filled with utter, pointless rubbish.

Comment by Rob

True enough, but Im not sure that’s very different (except in sale) from the fate of pre-digital photo albums or. more usually, envelopes that were flicked through at the photo developer and then dropped in a draw. It seems it’s the fact that the photos were taken is most important – or maybe that’s a reflection of the difficulty of reviewing them when we want. I think it’s the same thing that causes people to film bands etc with their phones rather than live the experience. Maybe we don’t trust our ability to remember – at a more basic level than NP’s point about accuracy.

Comment by John

a trend idiot would babg on aout perfomative leisure

Comment by northern

WTF is that? How does it differ from performative performance? Audience 2.0 no doubt features heavily.

Comment by John

I did want to do an exhibition, which used only photos from film that would now be deleted from a camera rather than printed. The lost photographic mistakes that no one ever sees anymore.

I guess it’s the same as anything when it becomes quick, easy and instantly available. The numbers go up and the average quality goes down, but the sharing aspect means in many respects photos themselves are more important than they have ever been.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Someone should hack you a blog button that, when clicked, magically removes the banter and gentle bickering from your comment threads, leaving behind the discussion about what you actually said.


A genuine insight has an entrepreneurial edge to it. Not only should people say “yes, that’s so true”, but the person who has had the insight should have an almost paranoid “Fuck, how come no-one has thought of this before?” reaction.

It’s like when you totally know that you have nailed a pitch. The strategy and brand idea that you’ve come up with are indubitably perfect. In fact it seems so blindingly obvious in retrospect that you convince yourselves that one of the other pitching agencies must have thought of it too. They rarely have.

Comment by Phil Adams

First of all it’s nice to have you pop by Phil. Really nice.

Secondly, your point about “fuck, why has no one thought of that before” is totally right .. though to be fair, sometimes that reaction is down to how you express the insight rather than the insight itself [so to speak] but underpinning it all should be the view that what you’re saying crystalises a belief, attitude or action that people have done/felt but have either never really been able to articulate why or realise that they even were doing it.

Comment by Rob

Lovely quote.

Comment by Marcus

I know this post isn’t about photos/instagram but it did remind me of this:

Comment by Marcus

I hadn’t seen that before. Thank you.

Comment by Rob

My pleasure. That’s why I’m here.

Comment by Marcus

Smell’s a great trigger and the Demeter Fragrance Library have somehow bottled a bunch of childhood memories. They’ve got one called “wet garden” – but it’s not just any wet garden, it’s my little hide-out under the big conifer. Which would’ve been a boring-as-fuck photo.

Comment by Lewis Rosa

Yes I know – I have the ‘Play Doh’ one and it didn’t take me back to a ‘golden time’, it made me wonder what drugs the marketing director was on when they green-lit this madness.

Comment by Rob

the demeter marketing director? I dunno, but I bet they’re on better stuff now. Folk (including us) will obviously pay a premium for even a whiff of golden time.

Comment by Lewis Rosa

Sorry to hear the news about your friend Tina. I hope you’re doing OK Rob.

Comment by Pete

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