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


The Power Of Pettiness …

Of all the types of revenge you can get, petty revenge is one of my favourites.

The beauty of it is that it’s petty. Meaning it’s for something the aggressor doesn’t even realise they have done. At least not until they experience the act of revenge.

The other wonderful thing is that the pettiness often extends to the act of revenge.

In most cases it’s about forcing some sort of ‘inconvenience’ upon the victim … even if organising it took longer than the actual inconvenience lasted.

It’s why the question asked of many revenge makers is, “was it worth all that time just to do that?”

And almost universally, the answer is “yes … it most definitely was”.

Over the years I’ve embarked on a reign of petty revenge terror. Seeking to even the score against people who have either inadvertently- or consciously – tried to fuck me or a mate over.

This has resulted in all manner of acts.

From stealing a single wheel from their desk chair so it was annoyingly lopsided … to having stickers printed so I could put the word “last” over all their out-of-date ‘agency of the year’ posters … to placing a ‘honk if you hate the police’ bumper sticker to the back of their car to having badges made that said “I’m a sexist twat” that we sent to every male boss who had harassed my female friends to – in the very old days – changing the keys around on their laptops in the knowledge they couldn’t touch type so every time they wrote words like ‘they’, it would type a very different word.

I would like to point out 3 things:

1. They all deserved it.
2. This was all a very, very long time ago.
3. I’m much more sensible these days.

Well, I say that, but when we lived in London, a neighbour denied they had taken delivery of my Amazon order – despite me being sent photographic evidence of them accepting it – so I spent 2 days signing them up to every catalogue I could find and I hope they’re still getting them. I added a nice touch by addressing it to, ‘Ima Lyer-Antheef’.

But compared to my friends, I’m still an amateur. The stuff they’ve done is incredible in it’s pettiness and time consumption.

There’s one involving a famous cereal manufacturer – that I can only say when on my death bed – that still raises a smile even though it occurred 16 years ago.

But all that pales into insignificance compared to this …

They say heroes wear capes.

Well sometimes they wear their pettiness on their sleeve.

All bow down to a true master at work. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.



Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.



Layer Cake …

I was talking to a couple of mates recently.

Both of them are a couple of incredibly talented, highly regarded, multi-award winning creatives and they were asking me what it was like working in NZ.

As we were chatting we came to a revelation about what was causing the decline in advertising standards.

This is a topic that has been debated a lot over the years with a myriad of possible causes. But with the experience I have seen in NZ – plus the experience I have working directly with a number of famous bands and billionaires – we realised there was actually an underlying cause that trumped all other considerations.

It’s not digital.
It’s not consultants.
It’s not holding companies.
It’s not eco-systems or playbooks.
It’s not the wild inflation of strategists.
It’s not cost.
It’s not effectiveness.
It’s not in-house alternatives.
It’s not direct-to-consumers.
It’s not data.
It’s not rational messaging.

It’s the layers within companies.

The multitude of people everything has to go through and be approved by.

Might be on the client side.
Might be on the agency side.
Might be on both sides … but each layer is like a mini-focus group where ‘success’ is when the representative of that particular layer feels something can then be passed on to the next person in their group without it making them look foolish for their decision or choice.

And as the work passes each layer, the work gets diluted or chipped away until the ultimate decision maker gets to see something that is a pale shadow of what was originally intended.

An object that is a trophy to self preservation rather than potency and truth.

And as companies and agencies have grown in their complexity, the work has faced more layers and opinions. Doesn’t matter if you’re independent or part of the most networked agency/company in the history of networked agency/companies … the decline of creative standards is down to the number of organisational layers that now exists within companies.

And why has this happened?

Well, part of it is because of complexity, but the main part is because companies have got into this mad position where the only way they can grant a significant payrise is if the person is promoted.

So we’re in this mad situation where we have increased layers, headcount and complexity simply because we have viewed money as something commensurate with promotion rather than quality.

Now I appreciate you could argue promotion is a sign of quality – but I don’t think that’s right.

Being good at something doesn’t automatically mean you will be good at something more senior. Hell, there’s a lot of people who don’t even want to do something else. They just want to do what they love and they’re happy at.

I remember at Wieden where – for one mad minute – they thought I’d make a good MD.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

They didn’t come to their senses even when I told them I wasn’t even the MD of cynic … and that was a company I actually founded.

I didn’t want to be an MD.
I wasn’t interested in being an MD.
I just wanted to do what I loved and was good at.

And while they finally came to their senses [good call, Luhr, as usual] the reality is a lot of companies have a bunch of layers simply because they needed to promote someone to justify a payrise.

And before you know it, every task has to go through multitudes of layers … where most are designed to dull an idea rather than sharpen it.

While I don’t know this for a fact, I would guess the companies or agencies who are doing the most interesting work … the stuff that attracts culture rather than chases them down then beats them into submission … are the ones where they deal with the ultimate decision maker.

We get to do a lot of that in NZ.

I definitely get to do that with Metallica, Gentle Monster and the GTA team.

And the difference is huge.

Because while some of these clients are genuinely exceptional – especially when I’m talking to the founders of the organisations because that gives them a level of power and authority most other clients could never hope to get – I imagine a lot of the others are no different to the clients everyone who reads this blog deals with in London or New York or Tokyo everyday.

It’s just the big difference is instead of work having to appease the comments and judgement of 20 different people, it only has to agree with 4 … so the idea that gets made resembles the idea on the table to a much greater extent.

So next time you have a client that talks about wanting great work, don’t talk to them in terms of what processes, systems or people you can add to the mix, talk about what both parties need to take away.

Because if you want the work to be potent, kill the layers of filtration.



The Commercial Value Of Craft …

Craft.

I’ve written a bunch about it over the years.

Like here.

Or this.

And in all cases, I’ve talked about the power.

The value.

The devaluation of its importance by clients and agencies.

I swear to god, the loss of craft coincided with the moment agencies decided they didn’t want to be art schools and wanted to be an MBA class instead.

Idiots.

However every now and then you see a piece of work that reminds you how great and valuable craft can be. Work where you know the details were sweated because they cared. And the fact it comes from Colenso just makes it better.

Craft is a competitive advantage.

For clients. For agencies. For individuals.



They Deserve 32 Root Canals …

Toothpaste.

It’s all kind-of the same isn’t it.

OK, so the manufacturers would disagree – which is why they keep launching different variants with all manner of ‘secret ingredients’ – but to the average person on the street, not only is the product pretty much the same, so is the advertising.

I get it, toothpaste ads must be hard … but even that doesn’t justify this shit from Colgate.

Cop a load of this.

Yep … ‘Made for greatness’.

Not made for great teeth, but greatness.

Hmmmmn … that’s not an over-claim whatsoever is it?

It’s a toothpaste.

For teeth.

TEETH.

And while teeth have a big role in our lives – and culture – THEY HAVE FUCK ALL TO DO WITH YOUR ABILITy TO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN.

Or a flight of stairs for that matter.

Now I appreciate I’m biased because in 2012, we did Greatness for the London Olympics … but have a look and tell me which you think is better … more resonant and more appropriate?

Yes, exactly.

And that’s before you have been reminded about the two lead NIKE Olympic ads from 2012.

Find Your Greatness.

Jogger.

God, even now Jogger gives me chills.

As I said, I get how hard toothpaste ads must be, but if Colgate want to do something right and interesting, they should give me a call – as I literally have 3 great ideas they can have. For a price. On the bright side, I promise you that whatever the price we agree on, you wont have to pay with your dignity like you have had to do with this.

Oh god how I’d love it if they did that, even though we all know it’s not going to happen.

So I’ll leave you with this.

Colgate … I am sure this passed all manner of internal research tests.

I am sure you this makes you all feel you’re doing something really important for humanity.

And while healthy, bright, strong, clean teeth are important – and Colgate plays a big role in that – it would be so much better if it helped make the brains of the people who approved this, as bright as their teeth, because maybe they wouldn’t have churned out the advertising equivalent of a root canal without anaesthetic.

Call me Colgate. Seriously. Please call me. I can put a billion dollar smile on your face.