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

The Longest 5 Seconds On Earth Are The 5 Seconds Before You Can Skip A YouTube Ad …
January 22, 2014, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

See that picture above?

See it?

That’s a screenshot of a pre-roll ad on a Youtube video I was trying to watch in December.

Now see that number on the far left hand side … the one that says 2 minutes 16 seconds … that’s how long the fuckers who made that ad expected me to wait until I could see the video I wanted to actually watch.

How egotistical can you get?

How utterly bloody insane can you be?

Do they really think I’m going to spend longer watching a crap video about a brand/product I have no interest in, than the actual thing I want to watch?

Christ, the opening scene features a pair of slippers.


That hardly constitutes the sort of thing that would grab the attention of the average person.

Even grandma’s would not want to see that and I swear to god they keep the slipper industry alive.

Who made this?

Who sold this?

Who told the client it was a good use of time?


Before anyone on here was born, I worked for an amazing agency called HHCL.

They were true pioneers, but more than that, they were brilliant at understanding what was really going on in cultures and individuals hearts and minds … which is why the stuff we made that people initially thought was mental, was exceedingly successful.

The reason I say this is because years before the internet was invented [well, it was invented, but it was classified to the military or something] there was this thing called the ‘video recorder’.

This machine would play big tapes [another thing you will have to look up] that – among other things – featured movies on them.

You would rent these things from something called a ‘video store’ and it was basically be a massive library, but instead of books, it was full of video tapes.

Anyway, at the beginning of these films would be ads … a bit like the pre-roll on youtube ads.

In the old days, rather than a ‘skip after 5 seconds’ button, you had this thing that allowed you to fast forward past the ads and get to the movie.

People used to do this all the time and yet – like on Youtube pre-roll ads – clients and agencies kept shoving on their products at the beginning of the film.

And this approach carried on for years until the brilliant folk at HHCL – when asked to do something prior to the main feature starting – decided to do something that was devious and effective.

Knowing full well people fast forwarded past the ads, they created a commercial – just featuring words – that was so slow that when the person sped past the ads, they could read what was being said clearly across the screen.

Yes I know you could argue that’s invasive, but it’s also bloody brilliant – but then that’s what HHCL were, bloody brilliant.

They took this approach even further in 1994 by making an ad so deliberately fast that only those who videoed it, could read it:

Sure, it’s sort-of playing on reverse psychology but it’s also mental brilliance.

Yes I know some agencies and clients are trying to do similar stuff these days, but they are still in the minority, which begs the question … with so many people banging on about how innovative the creative industry is and how informed the media agencies are, how come so many seem to operate without any appreciation of what the audience do/want and look for?

Of course, there is a bigger issue as regards making products people want rather than what companies want them to want – but every time I see a pre-roll ad on Youtube, I genuinely want to ring the client up and ask them whether they are insane or just an egomaniac.

I’m not saying pre-roll can’t work, but I am saying if you base your execution on the premise that ‘your brand/ad is so interesting that people will delay what they want to see, just to watch it’, then all I will say is that it must be utterly brilliant on their planet.

Insight Should Be About The Culture, Not [Just] The Category …
January 21, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Remember yesterday’s blogpost about cycling in China?

The one with the ridiculous GoPro video of that guy doing a back flip on his bike?


Jesus, it was only yesterday, maybe you should go to the Doctor to get that looked at.

Anyway, ever since GoPro became a billion dollar company, there have been countless competitors trying to get a slice of the market.

Many are very, very good … however there’s a reason why people are still buying more of the original than the lower cost alternative and that is the fact GoPro speak to your inner daredevil whereas the competition speak blandly about ‘capturing life’ – which sounds awfully like z-grade Kodak to me.

Of course there’s other reasons – from the level of accessories that you can get for GoPro [including a remote controlled drone!!!] right through to the community they have built through their site – but let’s park that for the sake of this post.

Please? Thanks.

Anyway, to prove the point that you might not agree/care about, here’s a GoPro ad:

Look at it …

Even if you’re not a skier, that photo makes you feel ‘in the action’.

Literally in it.

You can feel the snow, the cold, the speed of the World rushing past you.

Then there’s that line, ‘Be A Hero’.


Even if the most extreme thing you do is make a cup of tea during the interval of your favourite TV show [even though media people tell me no one watches telly any more. Ever] it makes you feel you are – or could be – doing something of untold bravery … something others would watch in awe as they view it from your perspective.

It’s a great line, a great, great, great line.

Now compare that to the competition …

Look at those photos.

Not one of them makes you feel ‘you’re in the moment’. Hell, they all look like they were photographed by someone on their iPhone standing at the side.

There’s no drama, emotion, sense of exhilaration or – dare I say it – danger.

It’s what a company who doesn’t really ‘understand’ their audience – or even the role of their product – makes for an ad.

Then there’s their line.

‘Life. Camera. Action.’

Jesus Christ, how bad is that.

I know it’s a play on ‘lights, camera, action’, but it’s shit.

It’s another one of those ads that talks at you, not too you.

I get they’re trying to make it sound like you can be the ‘star of your own movie’ … but the problem is they are telling you what to feel rather than just making you feel it.

And that’s one of the reasons why GoPro so good.

Sure, they have the product, the infrastructure, the distribution and the community … but you feel GoPro was created by people who live and love this life rather than just be another faceless corporation who produced a product because they wanted to get a slice of the ‘live action’ video market.

So while I appreciate no company wants to be inauthentic, an important thing to remember is that sometimes the biggest advantage you can have over the competition is not what you do, but why you do it.

The culture, not the category.

The emotion, not the technical.

The feeling, not the reasoning.

Which basically is a massive justification for why I bought a GoPro, even though the most extreme video I’ve made so far is this:

This Is What Riding Your Bike To Work In China Can Feel Like:
January 20, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

… and of course, I should know given I am now a fully fledged member of the sad-old-bastard-ride-to-work club, thanks to my new bike – which I recently discovered looked pretty similar to the last bike I owned – which was almost thirty years ago!!!

And yes, I am saying the driving standard here is bad. That might sound a terribly bad thing to say, but it is sadly true. Not for everyone of course, but every day you hit the road, you will pretty much see something that Hollywood would like to feature in one of their bad movies.

There are reasons for it though.

You see, apart from the fact that car ownership is relatively new here so the frame of reference for personal transportation is a bike – hence people try and squeeze Hummers through the gap a moped would find it difficult to get through – there is no ‘letter of the law’ for driving here, so the ability to “explain away” an accident is so high, people don’t feel there are many consequences to bad driving.

Though of course, they don’t think it’s bad driving, it’s just driving.

Then there’s the whole cultural thing of ‘not letting someone get ahead of you’ which is psychologically deep rooted to a time where the difference between first and second could be life and death – not from a metaphorical point of view, but literally.

So all in all, there are many reasons for it, which is much better than the driving I see in Italy. Hell, I’m half Italian and every time I’m in Rome, I have a minor meltdown whenever I have to either [1] drive or [2] cross the road.

Anyway, now I’ve pissed on the driving skills of two great, historical nations, I think I’d better go however from now on, I wish to be known as Evel Knievel 2.0 … though prejudiced prick might be more appropriate.

“Look right and see the world. Look left, and there’s the whole universe …”
January 17, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So last week I wrote about the wonderfully charismatic and inspiring astronaut, Chris Hadfield and I mentioned how I’d be writing a bit more about him.

Well the truth is I won’t be writing about him, I’ll be hoping you read something someone else wrote about him.

It’s long, but I assure you it is well worth the effort.

What I will leave you with is that if you’ve seen the visual spectacular that is the movie, Gravity … then some of the things you will read will remind you of scenes from that movie, except in Chris Hadfield’s case, he didn’t experience it from the comfort of a Hollywood set, he saw it all first hand, way above us all.

Everything I read about this guy, makes me like him more and the last line of the article, is possibly one of the best bits of advice you will ever hear.

Ever. Hear.

So change the screen to make the font bigger, sit back and prepare to be enthralled.

Happy weekend.

I’d be A Much Wiser Person If He Was Still Around …
January 16, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment, Mum & Dad

So at 10:34am GMT, it will be 15 years since my beloved Dad passed away.

Time seems to be passing by so quickly now that I’m worried that one day soon, I will have to come to terms with the fact he has been gone longer than he was in my life.

I am dreading that day, even though I miss him – and he’s with me – every single day.

Last year I wrote about how I wanted to remember the good times, not the bad … celebrate his life, not the sadness I feel of him dying … and I want to continue that attitude, because that’s what he would have wanted and it’s what I need to ensure my brain is filled up with.

The temptation to focus on the loss is still so strong in my mind, it is where I naturally default to, hence it’s a conscious decision for me to write these positive stories, even though I know they are the right thing – and the good thing – to do.

However unlike the times before, where I’ve written about watching the Olympic ice skating with him at some ungodly hour in the morning or the Saturday ritual of burger making, I want to talk about something that at the time, I hated, but over time, I realised was actually a quality that is both wonderful and valuable.

When I was at school, there was a guy called Benny.

Benny was younger than me, but he was a keen musician so for a time, he and I were in a band together.

Anyway, my Dad was taking him home after practice when he casually asked what Benny’s father did.

I immediately cringed.

Not because I was scared my Dad would judge him by what his father did for a living [my Dad didn’t give a toss about that sort of thing] but because I knew Benny’s father had died a few years before.

As Benny politely explained his father had passed away, I wanted to be swallowed up by the car seat and then – after a second where the entire World seemed to go silent – my Dad said something that shocked and disgusted me.

“I’m very sorry to hear that Benny …” he said, ” …could I ask how he died or would you rather not talk about it?”

OH MY GOD, what was he thinking?

Was he trying to embarrass me and humiliate Benny?

I became so bloody angry and upset and immediately jumped in and said to Benny he didn’t need to answer that.

However to my surprise, Benny did want to answer it.

He wanted to answer it in detail.

He wanted to talk about how his Dad died … how he felt about it … how he was worried about how his Mum was coping … how he didn’t have anyone to talk to about it … how he was worried people judged him or would judge him … he talked and talked and talked as if a dam had burst and all the grief was spilling out with a ferocious force.

And my Dad stopped the car and turned to Benny and listened to him.

Listened to all his fears, sadness, grief and concerns.

And then, when Benny had let it all out, he talked to him.

He calmed him down and reassured him how he was feeling was normal.

He told him that no one would know of this conversation [which was obviously aimed at me] and that he could, if Benny wanted, talk to his Mum and the school about how he was feeling.

In short, my Dad wanted to help this poor, lost kid feel better about himself. Not by patronising him or ignoring a point that could cause upset, but by dealing with it head-on in a compassionate, considerate and empathetic way.

But more than that, he was interested in how this stranger was feeling. He wasn’t ‘going through the motions’, he was treating him as the individual he was … and while I was mortified that all this ‘private’ stuff was out in the open, I now know – years later – it was one of the most wonderful, beautiful and kind things I’ve ever seen.

The problem when a family member dies is that for that day, the family members who are left behind are smothered with support and care. However, 24 hours later, all that support basically disappears as people get on with their lives … and while that is understandable, it makes the loss even harder because time has stopped for you and you’re left behind, trying to cope.

Benny was in this situation.

Benny had spent years trying to cope by not coping.

In some ways it was even worse for him because he was only around 13 when it happened, so other kids and teachers and parents didn’t know what to do because they didn’t want to upset him or deal with the mutual embarrassment of him crying.

But my Dad had a different point of view.

While he never wanted to cause embarrassment [unless it was to me, but that’s another story for another day] he also didn’t want someone to be locked inside their own prison simply because they were frightened to express themselves for fear of putting themselves – or others – in a complicated situation.

It shames me to say it took a long time for me to appreciate how important that attitude was – which is mad, given my Mum always said I should care about what others care about but it did, which means I went through 10 years of gut-wrenching emotional pain after my Dad died simply because I’d adopted the same ‘head-in-the-sand’ stance as Benny … which is why I know how vital it is to talk about your troubles or offer to listen to someone going through their own, because it can literally make a bigger difference than you could ever imagine.

My Dad taught me that.

It’s one of the most wonderful lessons I’ve ever learnt.

And I often wonder what else he would have taught me if he was still around.

Thank god my wonderful, incredible Mum is still here.

They were quite the team and he would be very happy to know that she still flies the flag of understanding, interest and empathy … which is why today is both a sad day and a joyous one, because while I miss my Dad incredibly, it is also a reminder that I got to learn – and still do – from two of the very, very best.

Thank you for everything.

I love you both so very, very much.


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