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


Fempowerment Fails …

Years ago I worked on the shampoo brand Sunsilk.

I know. Me.

A bald bloke.

Hahahahahahahaha.

Back then, it was in a two brand fight for dominance with Pantene.

They went back and forth trying to get one over the over.

Apparently the brands had legally agreed how each one could show the ‘shine’ of the hair they washed in TV ads. A slight deviation that allowed each one to build their own distinctive look.

Back when I was on it, albeit for 2 mins, Sunsilk was a big, mature brand.

A powerhouse.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw this:

What in gods name is that?

What is it?

It’s like the worst Barbie ad I’ve ever seen.

An ad that claims to ‘rethink’ pink but doesn’t really rethink anything.

Oh they may think they are, but the people behind this need to know you can’t just say pink now represents possibilities, future, strength and shiny [gotta get those haircare ad cues in there, even if it makes even less sense to the premise of the ad] … you actually have to make it mean that.

It’s a commitment.

A focus.

Acts beyond advertising.

So sadly, when you make an ad so bubblegum it looks like the bastard love child of the movie, Legally Blonde and a packet of original Hubba Bubba, you’re not really going to convince anyone.

On the positive, they cop out by saying ‘pink is whatever we make it’ and so I would like to tell the people at Unilever and Sunilk they did exactly that, because they have made pink brown.

Shitty brown.

Am I being mean?

Yep.

But then this is a multi-billion dollar company who has profited by putting women across Asia in cultural jail by promoting white skin as the right skin … used COVID to maximise profits for their antiseptic products and continually used stereotypes to promote it’s products … so I don’t have much sympathy for them.

Especially when they’re now trying to connect to young women by saying ‘pink’ is powerful while using all the same tropes, styles and themes that means what they’re actually communicating is ‘pink is the same old girly cliche they’ve been profiting from, for decades’.

There’s some absolutely incredibly talented people at Unilever.

Including some very good friends of mine.

There’s also some brilliant systems and processes within the organisation.

Sadly, there’s also a blinkered reliance on some questionable research methodologies, which results in a lack of self awareness so they end up with work like this.

They have done some brilliant work in the past.

Some truly brilliant.

But – in my opinion – not so much right now. Made worse with the sort of underlying messages that undermine people rather than elevate them.

If it wasn’t for their huge distribution and pricing power, it would be interesting to see what would happen to the brand.

But the thing is I want them to do well.

I want them to make work that changes and positively impacts culture.

They’re a huge spender on advertising.

They have the ability to change how culture feels and how the industry is perceived.

A Unilever that does great advertising is a Unilever that will have positive knock-on effects in a whole host of other areas and industries.

I’d even be willing to help them – for free, for a time – if their starting point was about building change through truth rather than their messed-up, manipulative version of purpose.

However given they made this ad after saying they wanted to stop the stereotypes in their advertising, it appears their view of reality is more blinkered than a racehorse.



When Your Whole Childhood Is A Lie, But Still Better Than A Lot Of Adult Marketing Truth …

When I was young, I was introduced to a whole host of iconic TV characters.

Six Million Dollar Man.

Wonder Woman.

Buck Rogers.

Superman.

The Incredible Hulk.

Of course there were more, lots more – from cartoons to local kids TV – but the one’s from America just seemed to be more amazing.

Part of this was probably the production value of the shows, but it was also the imagination they triggered and celebrated in me.

It was so much more than just entertainment, it challenged, encouraged and introduced me to a whole new way to look and see the possibilities of the World.

These characters continue to hold a lot of sentimentality with me, because despite being over 40 years ago, they were – in many ways – characters that defined my generation.

They were OUR shows, even when they were a remake of something that went before.

I say this because when I look at Otis, the characters from his shows are so different.

For a start, so many of them are born through Youtube.

Plus there’s also a huge amount from games, like Roblox or Minecraft.

But the relationships are similar to the ones I had with the Incredible Hulk etc.

And that’s because they’re his characters.

They are badges of his generation.

He connects to people who share the same love and knowledge.

Which is a good reminder that in a world where we are continually going on about new possibilities, new opportunities and new technologies … the forces that make so many of them successful and valuable are the same things as they’ve always been.

Emotion.

Of course we should know this.

Of course this should be obvious.

But I don’t know if we do.

I read so much these days that seems to be focused on efficiencies, effectiveness, experience or eco-systems … and while they’re all important and have a role to play … they aren’t the reason people connect so deeply, they’re just tools to help make it happen.

In our quest to be seen as innovative, we’re re-making the wheel over and over again except it’s not as simple. Or as effective. Or as powerful.

Because we’re so desperate to look like we’ve done something new, we walk away from the things that can make something valuable.

Beyond price.
Beyond status.
Beyond superficial.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten the value of emotion.

We talk about it. We describe it. We even attempt to show it.

But instead, we have reduced it to a set of ‘research group approved’ actions and behaviours.

A set of research group approved actions and behaviours that are more focused on telling people what we want them to think about rather than to feel.

A set of research group approved actions and behaviours that are designed to minimise the potential of alienating someone rather than making it mean everything to them.

How fucking depressing.

More than that, how fucking laughable.

Because the holy grail for all these brands is to encourage loyalty beyond reason.

Where people choose you over countless competitors.

Where they will queue for hours to stand a chance to have a moment in your company.

Where people will willingly wear a t-shirt with your name emblazoned on it.

Where people will do this over and over again, regardless of time, money or location.

For all the money, research and ‘marketing guru tactics’ so many brands adopt these days … they still don’t come anywhere close to the impact bands, gaming characters and old 1970’s TV shows have on people.

And there’s one simple reason for it.

You don’t make people care talking about them, you do it by being for them.

Not in terms of ‘removing friction to purchase’.

Or telling them you really, really care about them.

Or saying you’re committed to their progress and success.

Or you want them to get the best value deal they can get.

But by recognising who they are, not who you want them to be.

And then talking to them that reflects that.

The good, bad, weird, strange, complex, scary, hopeful, uncomfortable.

It’s not hard.

And yet it seems to be the hardest thing in the World.

Which is mad, given a man painted green and a shitty rubbery mask was able to do it and 40+ years later, can still ignite more feelings of love and loyalty from me than 98.99999% of all brands with their research and marketing guru processes.



Beware Of The Quiet Ones …

Once upon a time, I worked with a guy called Kim Papworth.

He was the co-ECD of Wieden London at the time, with the irrepressible Tony Davidson.

Now I am sure Tony wouldn’t mind me saying this, but he has a reputation as a bit of a madman.

Brilliantly creative.

Deliciously stubborn.

Fiercely challenging.

And slightly bonkers.

OK, so in their early days – when they were at BMP and BBH – this ‘unique’ reputation was allegedly shared … however as time went by, Kim started being seen by many people as ‘the nice one’.

While they are both ace, I get why.

Where Tony is loud, Kim is quiet.

Where Tony is chaos, Kim is clarity.

Where Tony is intense, Kim is calm.

Where Tony is random, Kim is considered.

Let me be clear, Tony was – and is – amazing and has always been so good to me, however many viewed Kim as the more approachable of the two … the one you could reason with … the one you could chat to … the one you could have a debate with and it’s this that was his most powerful move.

You see Kim … wonderful, kind, compassionate Kim … is steely as fuck.

Sure he doesn’t shout or rant or gesticulate or throw tantrums.

Sure he doesn’t swear or throw toys out the pram or act aloof.

But he was stubborn as fuck about letting the work win.

He wouldn’t let ideas be killed on an individuals whim.

He wouldn’t let ideas be changed to satisfy personal ego.

He wouldn’t let ideas be diluted to appease a committee.

He wouldn’t let ideas be burdened by politics or agenda.

He wouldn’t let ideas be sold short by timelines or small mindedness.

He wouldn’t let anything win other than the purity of the idea.

I once watched him keep a campaign on the table after a client had spent 30 minutes saying it was wrong and they hated it. Better yet, he did it in a way where the client was OK with him doing it.

He didn’t bully, lie or manipulate to get his way.

He did it by listening.

Intently.

Then he slowly but methodically went through each of their issues and talked about the options he saw to solve them … always ensuring they elevated the idea he believed in rather than diluting it.

It was – quite simply – one of the most amazing pieces of creative negotiation I’ve ever seen.

Actually, negotiation is the wrong word.

Because it was never about dumbing down the idea to keep a version of it, it was always about solving the problems the clients had but in ways that ensured the idea would be able to shine.

[The photo at the end of this post is from that meeting, where Kim awkwardly humoured me and my demands to commemorate the moment of magic]

While Kim was – and is – a brilliant, brilliant creative, one of his greatest skills was the art of listening, because he always saw it as ammunition that allowed him to keep ideas safe.

While there are others that practice this – including a bunch at Colenso for example – a huge amount of the industry simply hears stuff.

Listening and hearing are very different.

Listening is understanding.

Not just the words, but the context and the details.

But hearing …

Well, hearing is simply about sound and that’s why we often end up with divisions.

A battle between ‘what I want’ and ‘what you want’.

A war between creativity and client.

No one wins.

Sure, someone may in the short-term, but not long.

That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or debate … nor does it mean you will always succeed in convincing someone to change their mind … but listening increases the odds.

It ensures the other party feels they have been understood.
It ensures your response is efficient and focused on the issue.
It ensures you are keeping the work on the table for as long as possible.

[And if he feels the demands being asked of the work undermine the power of the work, he’d just take it off the table and we would start again. And I believe in that to this day]

I have had the great pleasure of working with a whole host of brilliantly talented creative people.

People in adland, music, fashion, gaming and sport.

But the ones I find the most fascinating are the ones like Kim.

Who have the ability to feel like velvet, even when their focus is forged in iron.

Not because of manipulation, deceit or trickery.

But because they know, nothing is as forceful as the power of listening.



Driven To The Edge Of Hope …

Years ago, at Wieden, we pitched for Porsche.

Actually we pitched twice and lost both.

Then we pitched for them at R/GA and lost that.

Which means I am the Porsche problem.

Makes sense …

Anyway, the first time we pitched, Sam – one of the creatives, along with Ryan – wrote the best positioning line I’ve ever read.

I can’t say was it was because I don’t want someone to steal his work, but it was one of those moments where you go, “Fuck me, that’s amazing”.

It was so good it conflicted Porsche.

They didn’t like our work at all but wanted to give us the business because of the power of the line. Then ‘international politics’ got in the way and we got told to take a hike.

Or a drive.

Though I acknowledge that I probably didn’t help matters by asking them why they sponsored golf when that was the antithesis of what Porsche were about. Hahahaha.

Anyway, as part of the campaign, Sam wrote a line in the TV script that I also thought was wonderful.

One I am OK with sharing because it isn’t sooooo specific to Porsche. It was …

“Ribbons of road draped over highlands”

God I love it.

I love it so much.

It’s so bloody evocative and – for me – captures the perfect balance between the quiet determination of nature surrounding a thin line of tarmac that has been gently placed over it and the loud performance of a car that’s hurtling along it at breakneck speed.

Torturing and teasing each other.

Both trying to dominate.

A game of cat and mouse.

The fine line between respect and ridicule.

I say all this because I recently came across a picture of a road that I feel this was written for,

Where we were writing for China, this road is in America – California to be more precise – but it is perfect all the same.

Which is why if someone at Porsche reads this and wants to get their brand back to the stature it once had – rather than this ‘fast luxury’ superficialness that it currently seems happy to communicate … let me know, because have Sam, Ryan and I got a brand idea for you.



How Some People Try To Prove Effectiveness …

And please note – unlike someone who commented when I posted this photo on insta – I know Pluto isn’t a planet which is why it has ‘disqualified’ on it. That said, having judged a bunch of awards recently, and seen what some think qualifies as worthy, then the Pluto commentator is already miles ahead of many in terms of what is valid and what is dodgy. Happy Wednesday.