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

Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
The Beastie Boys
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.


If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.


And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.

30 Comments so far
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Wow. What a post. With this and yesterday’s, you’re on fire right now. I agree with every word you’ve said again. I’m starting to get concerned. But seriously I love what you’ve said and your Dad’s quote at the end is the icing on the cake.

Comment by George

Me as well. It’s very worrying.

Comment by Bazza

Don’t worry. You know it won’t last.

Comment by Rob


Comment by DH

Am I going mad or did you meet him?

Comment by George

Those are 2 separate questions aren’t they.

1. Yes. 2. Don’t know.

Comment by Bazza

Ever helpful.

Comment by George

1. Yes.
1. Yes. And I was like a giggling school kid as I didn’t know I was going to. I’d just been asked by Metallica’s management to go to this house in Malibu. I still didn’t know who lived there until I saw a stuffed Polar Bear and recognised it from a documentary I watched with him in it.

Comment by Rob

I can imagine how hard you would be trying to keep it together when you just want to hug him and scream.

Comment by Pete

has rubin got over it yet?

Comment by andy@cynic

If Rick can say what he wants in 10 words and your old man can say it in 13 words, why do you need 6393639493629484629483739483729207483938?

Comment by Billy Whizz


Comment by Bazza


Comment by Pete

billy makes the smartest fucking comment hes ever made.

Comment by andy@cynic

Is this why you are growing your beard to look Rubinesque? So you can charge even more money for your wisdom?

This is another great post. Loooooong, but like the macmillan ad, once you’re in it, it feels shorter. Lots of great points that can really transfer from Rubin’s approach to music to brand work. But your dad’s point drives it home. If you need to show 100 pages of process and flowcharts to explain how a brand or an idea or your company philosophy works, you’re not that smart.

Comment by Bazza

Rob Rubin does have a certain twang to it.

Comment by George

This is very good Robert. Thank you.

Comment by Lee Hill

“no one has come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has.” I think Rubin’s creds reel would trump any agency or consultancies cred reel.

Comment by Pete

Yes … his reel would also show stuff he’s done in the last few months not just stuff from 10 years ago. Ha.

Comment by Rob

“do you remember this ad? maybe your grandpa would because thats how fucking long it is since we did anything fucking good.”


“do you remember this icon of advertising? well we still talk about him so we look good even though we havent done a fucking thing they would like for 1000 fucking years.”

Comment by andy@cynic

Fucking hell. What a post!

Comment by Frederico Roberto (@Frederiko)

campbell. who is writing your posts for you?
after a 1000 years of post bullshit, i know for fucking fact this and yesterdays couldnt possibly have been churned out by you.

Comment by andy@cynic

It’s strange. It has as many words as Rob would use but they say so much more than Rob usually says.

Comment by DH

AI is getting smarter.

Comment by Bazza

Not smart enough.

Comment by DH

if its compared to campbell. doesnt have to be that smart.

Comment by andy@cynic

Really enjoyed this post. The clip with Rubin brings to life so much of what you said. His knowledge of musical history allows him to connect to the stories behind the songs. His approach is all about helping the artist be at their best. His feedback is considered, clear and to the point. I particularly liked the moment he didn’t take the bait of pleasing the band member by saying, “At this point, my interest is any way we can get great songs”. What a lesson. Thank you for writing this Rob.

Comment by Wayne Green

And this.

“In our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.” So much good stuff in this.

Comment by Wayne Green

Fuck this is good stuff.

Comment by Steve

I don’t know why you have written such a nice post about me but I do understand why you stopped allowing comments on it.

Comment by George

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