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


The Fine Line Between Entrepreneur And Parasites …

By now, everyone will have heard about Squid Game.

It is – if not already – Netflix’s most watched show.

Ever.

There’s many planners who are writing ‘thought pieces’ on why this happened … but at the heart of it, it’s a greatly entertaining – and incredibly dark – story, with brilliant production values topped off with fantastic characters and acting.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been all manner of news stories coming out about the impact the show has had on broader culture … from sales of white, slip-on Vans – that feature in the show – going up 7800% right through to their instagram going up from 410,000 to 16 million in a matter of weeks.

That said, my favourite ‘proof of impact’ is this insta from one of the stars on the show:

But none of this is the point of this post, the point is related to the picture at the top of this post.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve just been seeing more and more brands – and agencies, specifically TBWA – exploiting the success of Squid Game for their own benefit.

Worse, the vast majority of these brands and agencies have absolutely nothing to do with the show – or Netflix – whatsoever.

Now I shouldn’t be surprised … this sort of thing has been going on for donkey’s years. However, whereas once ‘hijacking’ was a new and exciting way to get ahead of the pack and drive awareness and attention … this approach has now become so expected that any element of ‘surprise’ has gone.

In fact, the overall impact of this act is either seen as desperate or just ignored.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If people are willing to forgo their laziness for a second, they can look for ways where what they are ‘borrowing’ adds to the culture of the community rather than just stealing from it.

Better yet, they could collaborate with the people who actually created the idea and make something even bigger for culture to enjoy.

But that rarely happens because we live in an industry where speed is seen as being better than substance and stealing is viewed as being more valuable than building … and while there are short-term ‘benefits’ to that approach, all it does is continue to destroy the value of creativity … which is ironic, given all of these approaches are feeding off the power, value and influence of it.

There’s a saying that says ‘genius steals’.

While I know where it came from and what they were trying to say with it … it’s obvious that term is no longer valid.

Lazy pricks, steal.

While finding ways to help our work – and our clients needs – will always be important, if we want to be taken seriously, let’s be the creators, not the parasites..



Paint Pictures, Not Instructions …

I like quotes.

Always have.

I like them because they often frame something in a way that sets my brain on another track.

It’s why I enjoyed the Rules Of Rubin series I did a while back. And while that was for a specific work-related reason, I came out of it with far more than I imagined.

Recently I had another one of those quotes, not by Rubin but by Paracelsus … a Swiss physician who was a pioneer in many areas of the medical revolution’ during the Renaissance.

It’s that one at the top of this post.

Yes, I know what it is saying is obvious.

Let’s be honest, the phrase ‘everything in moderation’ has been around for decades, but there’s something about this that just has more bite.

Maybe it’s the use of the word poison.

Maybe it’s the way it doesn’t define any specific thing as bad.

Maybe it’s the way it doesn’t feel condescending or judgemental.

But it set my mind whirring far more than using words like ‘moderation’ and I would imagine it would do the same to any creative having to work with such a brief.

Quotes have a wonderful way of doing that.

They’re far more valuable to provoke different ways of thinking than filling in a creative brief with the answer you want the creatives to execute rather than giving them the problem you want their brains to explore and resolve.

We’re in danger of only valuing literal thinking rather than lateral … and that’s what I love about quotes. They challenge how you think … make you take some leaps, look in some new corners, explore what you think is possible … but never adding pressure on what or where you go with them.

I have always had a hard time writing briefs.

I place so much pressure on myself to get to something intriguing and interesting that I end up writing 7 or 8 different versions – all with different possibilities – so I and the team – can have a real chat about where our energy is at.

I think my record is something like 14 odd for Spotify.

And that’s before we even start on all the other briefs that come from it.

I still do that, but what’s helped my sanity is starting with a bunch of quotes or poems or song lyrics. Stuff related to the issue without being obviously directly about it.

It’s such a great time saver to open discussion.

Like the brief before the brief.

The opportunity to work out what excites you about a possibility without getting too lost in the detail of the possibility. At least initially.

So next time you’re stuck on where you should go, don’t start filling in the brief boxes in the hope the answer will present itself [it never does] … fill up the walls with stuff that opens things up before you start closing things down.

Because the best briefs are not a flow of logic, but a story of adventure.



Putting The Con In Icon …

I’ve talked a lot about how the industry loves to talk about innovation when what they actually mean is evolution.

Hell, sometimes it’s not even that … sometimes it’s just a new name for an old thought process or discipline that was expressed as part of what people always did rather than split out in an attempt to make more money or gain more influence.

I once said to the wonderful Martin Weigel that I am pretty certain marketing is the only industry that would make a paper plane and claim they invented flight.

Now that doesn’t mean people aren’t adding to what is being done … or bringing new thinking and craft to it … or finding new ways to incorporate it into work … but it does mean they’re trying to maybe ‘own’ too much of the narrative of the discipline. Suggesting they’re inventors when they’re actually craftspeople. Valuing ‘theory’ rather than actually making something truly interesting with it.

Now there’s many possible reasons for this.

+ We’re in marketing and so they’re marketing themselves.

+ Being a craftsperson has lost the value it deserves.

+ It’s cheaper to badge than to actually create.

+ People don’t know their history.

Now I’m sure I’m going to be accused of being a prick … an old, condescending prick. And maybe I am. But I am also not claiming I’ve invented anything and I’m just pointing out neither has many of the people who do.

And there’s nothing wrong with not inventing something … because doing your job really well is something worth celebrating, especially when you see what passes for ‘good’ in so much of what is put out these days.

But it appears the allure of pioneer is infectious these days.

Case in point is the talk around eco-systems, flywheels, multi-platform DTC/e-comm and the like. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, it driving new ways for brands to behave and earn. Yes, technology has allowed this to be done in more powerful and profound ways. But in many cases, it’s not revolution, it’s not really even innovation … it’s evolution.

And why do I say that? Have a look at this.

That is from 1957.

NINETEEN FIFTY SEVEN.

It’s Walt Disney’s ecosystem/flywheel/multi-platform DTC, e-comm [without the e] for the Disney corporation.

The blueprint for how he would use creativity to fuel his business in ways where every division is helping another division.

And while modern expressions of this have evolved and added more nuance, it’s not miles off, which is why whether you like/hate/respect/loathe him or the Disney Company, that’s pretty progressive thinking.

Or it was in 1957. in 2021 maybe not so much.

[Though, being honest, it probably is – which is even more worrying]

And yet we read so much from people acting like Walt Disney … except they’re not building their own brand, they’re selling their concept to build your own brand.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fuck, there’s a lot of value and money in that.

It’s genuinely exciting when you see someone identify opportunities in old approaches and habits that millions have missed. And for that, you should absolutely be using it to build a platform for your future success, growth and change.

I am literally cheering from the sidelines. All I ask is you please don’t act like you have invented flight when you’ve actually made a more efficient and effective paper plane. Not because I’m a bitter bastard – OK, let’s not go there – but because the future of this industry requires bigger leaps not better wrapping paper and the more we manage up our abilities, the more we lower the reality of our potential.

Christ, that’s a heavy post for a Monday isn’t it.

Given I know what the rest of the week has in store, it gets worse. Eek.



If You Don’t Know The Nuance, You Only Know The Cliche’s.


A client recently told me a story of a very successful client he worked with.

Apparently this person was a lover of cars and owned Ferrari’s and Rolls Royce’s.

My client asked him what the difference was between them.

Expecting some conversation about performance or comfort, he was surprised when he heard:

“When I pull into a hotel in my Ferrari, I’m treated like I’ve booked the Penthouse Suite. But when I pull up in my Rolls, I’m treated like I own the hotel”.

I really like that.

I like it for a whole host of reasons.

But the main one is the clarity in differentiating ‘success’.

So often, as an industry, we define things in absolute terms.

Good. Bad. Rich. Poor. Success, Failure.

But as with all things in life, there’s nuance and texture in there if you look closer.

Which is why planning – despite all the information that is now available to us – is still an outdoor job.

Going out to talk to people.
Listening to different viewpoints.
Watching how different groups react to different situations.

It’s not a ‘day out’. It’s not ‘superficial fluff’.

It’s the difference between doing work for people or about people.

I’ve banged on about the importance of resonance over relevance for years, but it’s never been so important … because with so much choice of who we can give our attention to, if we want to stand any chance of having people give a modicum of a shit about us and what we do/think, then we better be speaking their language and context rather than the language and context we think – or want – them to speak.

[A classic of utter bollocks is still the Gerard Butler, ‘Man of Today’ ad for BOSS. You can read the post I wrote here and see the ad it is referring to, here]

If the people behind the brilliant TV show, Succession, can talk to billionaires to ensure everything on the show reflects how the super rich spend their money – and how they act because of it, ie: they never bend their head down when entering or existing a helicopter because they travel by them so much, they know exactly where the propeller is in relation to their height – then surely we can go and spend some time with people to see what they do and hear how they think about brushing their bloody teeth or something equally inane.

If we want to get back to being valuable to clients, we’d go a long way towards that by stopping with audience generalisations – of which I am absolutely including broad – or even narrow – Lifestage segmentation – and knowing the real nuances.



Fail Yourself Forwards …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden was giving a presentation to a bunch of executives from one of Wieden’s big, global clients.

Dan was talking about the power of failing and asked if anyone in the audience had ever been fired from their job.

Nothing.

Not one person raised their hands.

Dan surveyed the scene for a moment before leaning into the microphone and saying:

“Cowards!”

There was a nervous ripple in the audience before some people laughed … but Dan wasn’t saying it to be nasty – or to be funny – he was saying it because he truly believes in the mantra of ‘fail harder’ and the positive impact it can have for both creativity and commerce.

Fail harder is not about seeing how bad you can do something.

Fail harder is about …

+ the quest to push yourself.

+ the desire to challenge limits.

+ the goal to provoke change through complete openness.

And while many people get the concept of it … even agree with it … not everyone can bring themselves to participate in it.

Now that’s totally fine until you start criticising or judge others who are doing it.

Especially if the only reason you’re criticising or judging them is because they’re doing something you didn’t do.

Then that’s a dick move. An insecure, dick move.

I say this because lately there seems to be a lot of people doing exactly that … especially on twitter and especially in the planning/marketing groups.

Judging … dismissing and insulting people who are trying different stuff.

Not because they think it’s wrong.
Not because they think it isn’t valid.
Not even because they don’t think it’s clever.

But because they’re cowards.

Sure, some will have valid reasons for it.

Family.
Mortgage.
Others relying on them.

But what is disappointing is – like the people in that conference – many of these people throwing shade are seasoned, senior individuals.

People who have the experience to push boundaries.
People who have the smarts to challenge the status quo.
People who have the knowledge to be more than capable.
People who have the voice to champion change.

And while it is absolutely their prerogative to not do it, sending our snide comments or subtweets about those who are, is pretty pathetic.

Ridiculing the way someone talks about their colleagues.
Questioning the ability to be taken seriously by clients.
Looking down on what they’re trying to do and what they’ve done.

Hell, some of these people have actually started their own company, so you’d expect them to be a cheerleader for the new … but instead it seems they see them as a more interesting competitive threat, so keep throwing out their barbs.

Oh they probably think they’re being so clever.

That the people can’t see what they’re doing.

But it’s so transparent you could grow plants in it.

However here is where it all goes wrong …

Because not only are many of these people pioneering a great business out of what they’re doing … everyone can see these insults are simply a way to distract thems from the fact they didn’t do what someone else has had the courage to try. That someone is trying to create their own story rather than simply follow someone else’s.

Personally, I think that is an incredible thing to do.

And thank fuck we have people willing to do that.

Not just because the old way isn’t working that well, but because the definition of ‘Fail Harder’ is the realisation that even if you fail in your attempt to do something audacious, you’re already further ahead than those who simply have followed the path of ‘achieving safely’.

There’s a few people I know who are victims of this.

They say it doesn’t bother them, but it obviously does.

Of course it does … it’s shit … especially when coming from people in the industry who are supposed to be ‘senior voices’.

So fuck those guys [and it is nearly always men]

Make them cry tears of regret, because regardless what happens next, you’ve already gone further them most of them could reach.