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


Is Adland Turning Into Liz Hurley. Or Dan Bilzerian?

As many of you know, I HATE the band, ‘The Smiths’.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

However, I recently saw an old article from their guitarist – Johnny Marr – that I really like.

I should say that I’m not saying this because he also now hates the racist prick that is Mr Miserable Morrissey … or that he lives in Portland and has been known to play with some old W+K’ers … but because I absolutely love the last line of this quote:

Maybe I like it because I’m reacting to the many people in the industry who are achieving acclaim for not actually doing anything other than repeatedly spouting very deliberate, very self-serving soundbites … or said another way, for being famous for being famous … but the idea of someone working hard at something for the sheer desire to be good at something seems a relic of the past.

I know, I sound the grumpiest of grumpy old men.

The reality is I don’t begrudge anyone who is doing what they can to make a living.

Even if it’s utterly strategic and contrived in its motivation.

And I also know there’s people out there who do have a ‘work hard to just be better at something I want to be better at’ work ethic … people like Maya Thompson and Joel Goodall to name but 2.

But the bit that bothers me is the industry is placing so much value on people who shout stuff rather than do stuff that it is actively encouraging more people to behave this way.

Being good at something – just because it feels good to be good at something – seems to becoming more and more of an outdated concept.

In some ways I get it.

Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. Or good to the level that it could serve you well. So why would you put in all that effort when it may not move you forward?

I also appreciate I am the last person who should be talking about this.

When I learnt the guitar, I did it because I wanted to be a rockstar.

Sure, I also wanted to write songs and play them with my bandmates, because I loved doing that … but the ‘benefits’ of stardom were definitely a major influence in my decision to pick up the 6 string.

I used to look at old guys playing in bands [ie: people who are my current age] as pathetic.

I used to think they were hanging on to dreams they’d never achieve and it was all a bit sad.

But now I’m at their age, I realise it’s no longer about that, it’s about pure enjoyment.

That regardless of what might – or probably might not – happen, the joy of doing something you love, like and are quite good at, is fulfilling enough.

Sure, there are better guitarists out there than me.

Guitarists who will achieve success, money and fame … but that’s OK, because just being able to play to a good standard is OK with me.

It’s a demonstration that I committed myself to something.

Didn’t take the easy option.

Didn’t give up.

It’s the fact I can play the guitar that makes me happy.

Of course it’s nice if others recognise that, but that isn’t important.

Neither is the case that a long time ago, I played guitar for a few semi-famous people.

In fact, given I no longer play for any semi-famous people, you could argue I’ve got worse … except I don’t think that way. Not just because so much of that is down to luck, but because I am happy that I found something that gave me – and gives me – pleasure through a constant feeling of challenge and achievement and that is not to be underestimated.

A gift that has lasted 38 years and counting.

Throughout my life I have met people who have planned their life so well.

They knew their next step … they knew the skills they needed to acquire to get where they wanted to go … they worked everything out in excruciating detail.

I used to sort-of envy these people.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I sort of bumbled along, choosing things that interested me rather than necessarily rewarded me.

Please don’t think I am claiming to be a saint, but I can say that money was never the driving factor in my choices – except once, which led to one of the most soul destroying periods of my life which reinforced that my way of making decisions – however stupid – was perfect for me.

In fact, I realise more and more that what works for me is less about efficiency of progress and more about emotional satisfaction.

And that’s why I love that Johnny Marr quote, because he captured that while people who have gained the highest job title or have been put on the highest hype pedestal are good … the real stars are the folk who simply get on with what they do.

Who take pride in a job well done because that’s the standards they operate by.

Not for progress or cash incentives, but because they believe that’s what’s right.

They view it as a testimony to their hard work and experience.

That being good at something is – to a large extent – good enough.

Sure, some of these people also sit at the top tables of companies … but most tend to be people who let other people shine through their abilities at doing something well.

I am not one of these people.

I want to be.

I try to be.

But I’m not.

I write a blog and court attention.

I try to do it for the right reasons – I genuinely do – but, let’s be honest, I also do it because for some mad fucking reason, it’s also become quite good for my career.

To be honest, that’s pretty sad and pathetic.

And that’s why I am so glad I play the guitar.

Because while my reasons to pick it up may have been flawed, it was the sheer joy of wanting to get better at something that gave me sheer joy that kept me going with it.

I hope everyone finds that thing.

We will all be better for it.

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Collabs Are Becoming A Circle Jerk …

Before I start, I’ve been a huge fan of collabs over the years. Seeing what happens when two different artists or brands or artists and brands come together has been fascinating.

And for every terrible LG x Prada phone, there’s a Nike x Ben & Jerry’s sneaker.

But … but … it feels we’ve moved from collab to labelling.

Where it isn’t about what two parties can create with each other, but just renting space for another brand to slap their logo on.

Take these Travis Scott x Playstation x Nike sneakers …

Jesus Christ.

Where the Ben & Jerry’s felt crafted and cared for this is just … well, put it this way, it feels more like a bad promotional item than something that represents a true collab.

And the thing is, this approach is happening more and more – across all manner of categories – which is why I kinda love what Nobuaki Kurokawa has done with their first product launch from their CUGGL label.

Let’s be honest, they’re taking the piss.

Like, blatantly and unashamedly.

Not only does it look like it say’s Gucci, by making the design resemble graffiti, it feels like they’re also sticking two fingers up at the terrible and contrived Gucci/Balenciaga collab.

The Gucci x Belenciaga is especially horrific because individually, they’ve not really laid a foot wrong in building the value and position in culture of their brands. And then they do this.

Lazy.

Fake.

Obvious.

Out-of-date.

Dad at the disco rubbish.

Basically, the fashion industry version of this.

Which is why I like what CUGGL have done so much.

Punking the brands pretending to be punking fashion.

Of course, Diesel did something like that before – though their mischievous eye was aimed at the counterfeit industry [even though it kinda said ‘fakes may be real’, which is the last thing they needed to do] however in terms of greatest accolade for mischief, that prize should have gone to the band Blink 182.

I say ‘should have’ because they ended up pulling out of potentially the greatest burn ever.

In the early 2000’s, Axl Rose was making a new Guns’ n’ Roses album.

It was unique because the only original member of the band was Axl himself.

He had fired all the band and was basically at his most indulgent ego best.

The only thing he’d announced was the album was going to be called ‘The Chinese Democracy’.

For years and years nothing came out.

The album postponed time and time again.

At one point, his record label, Geffen, pulled funding … and yet the recording still went on.

Enter Blink 182.

They announce they were recording a new album and guess what they were going to call it …

That’s right, The Chinese Democracy.

Better yet, because Axl was taking so long to release his version – they could be sure they’d be first, so history would always make it look that Guns n’ Roses copied Blink 182.

Alas they went cowardly on the idea, which is a shame … because that would have set a benchmark CUGGL and Diesel could only dream of reaching.

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Why Big Doesn’t Mean Better …

Scale.

A single word that has become the barrier to so much.

How big can you get it?
How much can you make it worth?
How do you plan to expand, expand, expand.

Now I get it …

If you want – or need – investors, they want to feel their cash will grow.

But the by-product of this is that scale has now become the measure we define ourselves by.

If it’s not big, it’s not worth it.
If it’s not the largest, it’s not the greatest.
If it isn’t known around the world, it’s not worth caring about.

And I’m not just talking in terms of investment, but in so many fields.

Advertising is one of them.

And I certainly have been guilty of it.

Thinking working on global brands meant I was somehow better than those who worked on more local clients.

But thankfully, I quickly learned that was bollocks.

Because on top of everything else, far too often global brands are a shitshow of politics and hierarchy.

Wading through pools of treacle.
That are located inside a maze.
Constantly being moved around.
In the dark.
All in a bid to delay making a decision.
Because not pissing off your boss is more important than creating value for customers.

Which is why for all the NIKE’s, Spotify’s and Metallica’s there’s a whole lot more … well. let’s just say there’s a whole lot more of those other sort of global clients.

And while I’ve been luckier than most with the global clients I’ve worked with – which is fortunate given most of my career has been working with them – the reality is it’s got nothing to do with their scale and everything to do with the values and aspirations of the individuals you’re working with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow … of course they do and that’s what they’re paying you to help them achieve it.

However growth and scale are different things.

Growth is building, evolving, creating and changing.

Scale is power, speed, conformity and consistency,

And that’s why people focused on scale, can tend to get blinkered …

Focusing on speed and size rather than standards and substance.

And before you know it, they’re churning out all manner of communication landfill, because they believe being something for everyone is better than being everything to someone.

Which is why I love this small hole-in-the-wall store I saw not so long ago.

I have no idea how many people need a quick buttonhole service …

I appreciate the sign is a ramshackle mess.

And yet it made me so happy because the shop looks like it’s been there for a long time which suggests the owner has built a position and value within the community they serve.

Where ‘quick’ is more a by-product of their experience rather than the objective of why they’re in business.

Maybe.

And while I could be completely wrong about them, the reason I love it is because it reminds me that we should celebrate business who wish to live up to a standard not down to a scale.

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Why I Am So Glad I Didn’t Get Everything I Wanted For Christmas …

I had a blessed childhood.

I had unconditional love … continuous support and a caring, family home.

But I never got Electronic Battleships.

Hell, I didn’t even get to play shitty paper battleships.

And frankly, I didn’t care except for the fact when I was a kid, the idea of an ‘electronic’ version of anything was cool so I wanted it.

Then there were the sounds it made.

Or at least the sounds it made on the TV ad.

Holy mother of god. This was 25th century technology.

Kinda.

But did I get it?

Did I hell.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I was spoilt over the years with a lot of electronic stuff …

Blip. Demon Driver. Astro Wars. Philips G7000. Game and Watch. Merlin. Tin Can Alley … which was the most rubbish thing ever made.

But no Electronic Battleship.

And the only reason I was able to deal with it is because I never really liked board games and my Dad hated them even more … so even if that wasn’t the case, only my Mum would be available to be an opponent and war was not something she rightfully wanted to encourage.

For 52 years I lived perfectly well without having Battleships in my life until one day I came home and found Otis had got a set and wanted to play.

Not Electronic Battleships [still being denied all these years later] but battleships all the same.

So we sat down at the table … facing each other and prepared to unleash naval hell on one another.

I should point out Otis had never played Battleships before.

I should also point out he’s 7 years old.

So you’ll understand why my view of Battleship has evolved from indifference to hate because 37 minutes after commencing our game, my son had blasted all of my stupid, crappy, cowardly ships out the water.

Crap game anyway.

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It’s Not An Ad, It’s A Documentary …

So recently, someone sent me this from the US …

It definitely raised my eyebrows reading it.

Mainly because – regarding Prince Andrew – it was absolutely true.

And while it was definitely done for ‘attention seeking’ purposes … and the company behind it has, as far as I can see, absolutely no connection to the Royal Family in any way … it is STILL better than most brands trying to hijack a cultural moment for their own benefit.

Maybe it’s because of the subject matter, one few would dare to play with.

Maybe it’s because they went all in with their headline, rather than blandom bullshit.

But when a mini-storage billboard – using terrible font and imagery – still produces something much better than the ads from brands trying to ‘hijack’ the Boris resignation, you realise 3 things.

1. The corporate desire to blend in more than stand out.
2. The lack of pointed headlines in communication.
3. The phone-it-in approach to comms planning.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t advocate using Prince Andrew as a figure in any of my clients ads either … but I’ll remember that billboard far more than whatever BK and countless others did during a mass ‘high profile’ moment.

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