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


If You Know Who You Are, You Don’t Have To Say Much About Yourself …

A while back, I wrote about a chef we met on a research project for Tabasco, who said something that had a big effect on me …

“The more confident the chef, the more simply your dish”.

I love this.

It captures so much in so few words.

As you will be able to tell from this blog, I find it hard to be succinct in pretty much everything and anything I do.

I spend ages thinking about things … what is important, what isn’t, what might be that I haven’t thought about yet and what I just want to try to see what comes out the other side.

This is incredibly annoying for almost everyone. Including myself.

But after I’ve messed about with it all and got an idea about where my energy lies, I can eventually get things down to their bare essential – by which I mean reduce it down to the most important thing I need others to understand and feel.

I must admit, I used to give myself a really hard time on how long this process took – especially when I could see others pull it off in the blink of an eye – but the reality is it takes a lot of hard work to be simple and rigour means what you do is right rather than just fast.

I say all this because I recently came across Apple’s marketing philosophy from 1977.

Look at that.

LOOK AT IT!!!

One page. One single little page.

Now I know some will claim it is simplistic.

Or it features words that people may not get, like ‘impute’.

But when you read it – which at one single page, means you definitely will – you quickly understand the 3 essential values that the brand stands for, believes in and values.

They give a fuck about their audience.

They are brutally focused on what they do.

They place great value on how they communicate themselves.

But there’s a couple of other things.

One is they openly talk about ‘creativity’.

To do that in 1977 is amazing.

To do that in 1977 when you are in the computer business, is almost unheard of.

But what I like is they link creativity with professional.

Because not only does it mean Apple don’t see these as being mutually exclusive – which was definitely not a commonly held belief back then, maybe even now – but it’s a clue to the work they want to be known for.

Not creativity for creativities sake, but how they look at the world.

What being professional looks like to them.
What the values of being professional means to them
What the word professional represents in terms of how you live and act.

And given they placed huge importance in understanding their audience, it meant they could do work that moved away from the typical suit and tie, business communication of the day and make work that spoke human to human … acknowledging the creativity in all of us and talking about human values not just corporate efficiency.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is one more thing I love about all this.

They talk about how, if they do it right, their customers will feel about Apple and their products.

Not a bunch of words … but emotion.

Of course this is all very obvious, but there are way too many clients who try to define the exact words they want people to play back to them.

Generic … overly-defined … corporate-talk … words.

It’s as if their bonus is linked directly to the quantity of words a focus group plays back to them.

Which is probably the exact reason why they do it.

But Apple in 1977 didn’t follow that path – and still don’t – because they, like NIKE and countless other brands who have a huge influence in culture, appreciate the simpler you are, the more powerful you become.



Proud To Be Chinese …

As you all know, I lived in Asia for a long time.

And as much as I loved it all, the time I loved most were my 7+ years in Shanghai.

Of course there were moments that were challenging – but that happens wherever you move, even if it’s just down the road from where you have always lived – but without doubt, I can categorically state it was one of the absolute best times of my life and I still miss enormously.

Part of this was because I was in China at a time of great change … where the country was starting to realise its own potential and power. Because of this, I got to witness the character and creativity of the culture came together to start creating something new … exemplified by the ‘coming out party’ of the Beijing Olympics to the rest of the World.

Part of this was because I was working at Wieden+Kennedy at a time where the business World had woken up to the importance of China as a market. What this meant was I wasn’t just part of work that I still feel immensely proud of, but my team had direct exposure to a level of client that few people ever get, with an opinion that has rarely been so valued.

Part of this was because of the people and places I got to meet, go to and work with. In almost every case, everyone was generous with their opinion, compassion and hospitality. In many ways, it is the place where we felt we were part of a real community – where everyone genuinely had everyone’s best interests at heart. The impact was so great on me, that I did a presentation in Australia on how living in China had made me a better person, let alone a better professional. The impact of those years still influences and drives me today.

Part of it was because of this guy …

I am so proud he was born in a country I weirdly regard as ‘home’.

And I am so so happy he feels the same way.

It’s for this reason he wanted to wear this top to school recently.

The symbols are the Mandarin characters for China – or more specifically, Zhōng Guó.

China has been going through a tough time.

Not just because of the Corona Virus, but because of the incredible prejudice being shown towards it and their people.

I get its scary and people aren’t really sure what to do about it … but I must admit I have found the open hostility shown towards it unbelievably offensive.

How the Chinese government have reacted to this situation has been unprecedented – in fact I doubt any other nation would ever react with such pragmatism.

Yes, there have been mistakes, but compared to the terrible way they handled SARS, they have learned their lesson and are actively doing all they can to stop the spread under incredibly complicated situations – exemplified by the fact they basically banned all travel during Chinese New Year when that is the very moment where 300+ million people go back to their homes across China to celebrate with their families.

And how did the World try to help?

By banning and being outright hostile to the people and country.

The paranoia has been incredible.

People claiming to be frightened of Chinese products.
People claiming to be frightened of Chinese services.
People claiming to be frightened of Chinese people.

The bit that upsets me most is that even now – as they are closing their borders to all – the narrative towards the Chinese is aggressive and fearful … which is very different to how they have reacted to other countries going through it.

Why?

Is it because of a language barrier?
Is it because of a lack of awareness?
Or is it because of an inherent prejudice towards China and their people?

Look I get no one wants to go to a place suffering with a dangerous respiratory virus and I get borders of nations needed to be protected [as they should be always] but at a time of struggle you would expect some compassion.

That governments have shown open hostility to a country and its people who they need for their own financial wellbeing is incredible – yes, that’s you America – and they should be grateful that China as a nation does not like conflict, because if the tables were turned, I don’t think other countries would be responding in the same way.

But whatever happens, I will always love and visit China and am grateful to the country for so many things – the main one being that my wonderful son Otis was born there.



Why Car Ads Are Killing The Car Category …

I wrote about an old car ad recently, but I recently saw another one that reinforced how far that category of advertising has fallen over the years.

Look at it.

Ridiculous.

Noticeable.

Full of charm and character.

Pretty much sums up the 2CV.

When was the last time you saw a car ad like that?

Hell, when was the last time you saw any car ad that made you give a shit, fullstop?

Sure there’s Wieden’s – and one of my absolute faves – Born of Fire for Chrysler and BBH’s wonderful Audi Clowns … but they are the absolute exception in a World dominated with ‘aspirational lifestyle’ imagery, topped with a bland, meaningless version of Just Do It as an endline.

It’s so sad because cars offer so much more than status and lifestyle.

And yet, that seems to be all car manufacturers want to spout – which is weird for a whole host of reasons.

One is that the future of the category is under severe threat by a generation who not only favour other options, but are increasingly not even bothering to learn to drive.

Second is the World is waking up to the environmental damage cars do and yet the infrastructure for the alternative – electric vehicles – is still insanely poor.

Finally is the fact that companies are actively pushing to lower salaries and full-time staff while increasing zero hour contracts, so who the hell do they think will be able to afford the cars they make anyway?

All in all, the category is crying out for someone who will disrupt the industry.

From ownership to running costs to marketing and everything in-between.

There’s a couple of companies exploring the possibilities … Volvo in particular are being pragmatic in these spaces … but even that might not be enough when the car manufacturers talk to the same [old] people, in the same places, with the same premise.

The last time I saw a long term brand idea for a car manufacturer that genuinely injected freshness and authenticity into the category through their work was Crispin’s ‘Mini’ … and that was back in 2002!!!

So while I hate looking backward and think most of the industries problems are because they are obsessed with ‘progressing’ through the rear view mirror, where car ads are concerned, they might do themselves a favour if they chose reverse gear.



Maybe The Thing Making Us Be Apart Is The Thing That Can Bring Us Together …

So today, I start working from home due to the devastating spread of corona virus.

As someone who has lived through SARS, avian and swine flu, you’d think I would be fine with it … but the way the government and media have responded, I have to say has left me on edge.

It feels like 28 Days Later – as we hide, hoping the invisible virus won’t get us while looking suspiciously at anyone who is outside or has a casual sneeze.

Personally I don’t think the government are taking it seriously enough.

I also think a lot of people are being way too blase about it.

But what’s worse is that while many of us are going to be inconvenienced, the elderly, the homeless, the single parents, the temporary workers, the unemployed and the small business owners are going to face a horrific time and no one seems to be creating plans for how they can cope.

I’m addition, it’s showing the worst of society.

From that fat, lying, cheating bastard who is the President of America – to the rapid increase in gun purchase in the USA [seriously, WTF?] to the disgusting locust like behaviour going on in across supermarkets all over the World.

I tell you what, any of these people who ever negatively judged immigrants, refugees or boat people better not do that from now on.

Though what’s the betting they’ll claim their situation is different.

I guess they’re right.

Refugees, migrants and boat people are trying not to die. They’re just trying to continue living in comfort and wipe their arse with 3-ply.

But through it all there have been signs of humanity showing their best side.

Coming together.

Uniting.

Looking out for others.

From the wonderful singing that is happening on balconies across Italy to Waitrose making sure all small business suppliers are paid the next day to LVMH doing this …

Given there are some companies you’d expect to jump to societies help who are acting like absolute wankers, it’s even more amazing LVMH are acting so swiftly and generously.

When this all passes, some companies will discover profit before people ends up costing them profit and people.

It’s a strange time but we will get through it – but what will make it better is if we can find ways to help those who feel left behind.

I’m working on something and there’s options already in place for the elderly – like this – but if you have more ideas, please let me know.

Most of all, look after yourself.

So far, 2020 has a lot to improve on.



How A Toilet Company Pissed On Purpose. Literally And Metaphorically …

It’s Friday 13th, so what better day to write about the scary subject of ‘brand purpose’.

OK, so unlike Mr Weigel, I believe brand purpose does have a real value.

That said, like Martin, I don’t believe purpose can be manufactured – or changed on a whim – and I certainly don’t believe it can do what governments can’t.

A while back I wrote a post about where purpose is going mad and used an umbrella shop as an example of when it all goes to shit.

Well, talking of shit, I recently was in Denmark.

When I was at the airport, I needed the loo – so in I went and then saw this …

Look at that …

No, not the loo, but the purpose.

Together We Change.

TOGETHER WE BLOODY CHANGE!?

Change what?

I think it has something to do with saving water but … what the fuck?

It’s a urinal.

A public urinal.

Why are they trying to sound like they’re making an Oscar speech.

Let’s not forget, this is a device that has been made to catch wee-wee [don’t say this blog isn’t kid friendly] … it’s an important device but not one worthy of a purpose like that.

And what’s the ‘Together’ part of that statement?

Are they organising men to have a filter placed in their penises [don’t say this blog doesn’t use correct biological terms] to ensure the water they emit is cleaned at source?

All this was going through my mind until I looked around the bathroom I was standing in and saw the state of the floor.

Piss. Everywhere.

EVERYWHERE.

Which immediately made me realise I’d been too harsh on the toilet company and their grandiose purpose because what I think they meant when they said ‘Together we change’ was …

“Hey men, stop pissing on the floor”

… though they would have more luck if they used the genius fly on the urinal trick, rather than another pointless purpose that people laugh at rather than are inspired by.

Purpose has a place in brands.

Purpose can be very powerful for brands.

But the moment you think it can be anything you want it to be and you act like it’s not for commercially beneficial reasons, then the only people you’re kidding is yourself.