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


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.



Life In A Lyric …

For years I have used song lyrics for creative brief inspiration.

Specifically, the Point Of View.

It’s been hugely useful to me because lyrics don’t just convey a story, they ignite emotion … which is especially useful when you want to capture the creatives imagination.

Mind you, I once used whole sections of lyrics from Bon Jovi’s Blood On Blood as my entire strategy presentation for Jeep and that didn’t go down so well.

Heathens … hahaha.

What’s interesting – at least to me – is when I was younger, I never really cared about lyrics. For me, it was always the guitar and the melody. Hell, I didn’t even know the lyrics to music I wrote myself … which, on hindsight, is probably a good thing, to be honest.

But since I hung up the guitar – or at least hung up playing it 8 hours every day – I have been captivated by lyrics. The stories and opinions they hold … and recently, while working on a project, I got reacquainted with the song Town Called Malice, by The Jam, which is above.

I remember when this song came out and I didn’t like it much.

Well, I loved the title – which I still do – but the rest was, blah.

I was into metal back then so I saw it as soft, sell-out, fancy suit shit.

Hahahahahahaha.

But 40 years later – fuck – I have learnt to love this song, especially for the lyrics.

Specifically, “stop apologising for the things you haven’t done”.

That’s a powerful line.

One that is even more pertinent today than it probably was in 1981.

I have to say, I am over people feeling they have to apologise for stuff they haven’t done.

OK, if they promised to take the rubbish out, I get it. But the rest can fuck off.

Life seems to be a continuous cycle of things we are supposed to have done … a slow force into complicity and parity.

Planning is particularly bad for this …

The books we should have read.

The people we should be following.

The methodologies we should all use.

Yes, there is a lot of good stuff you can get from the names constantly being suggested, but they are not a mandate. They certainly shouldn’t be the people or processes we have to apologise for having not followed.

Our job is to be interested in what others are interested in, not just what other planners are interested in. The naval gazing of the industry is insane.

On one level I do understand it.

Many planners feel they are imposters and so knowing what people they think are ‘real planners’ like, lets them feel a bit more validated to do what they are paid to do.

But here’s the thing, the people who think are ‘real strategists’ also feel like imposters.

Truly.

So what this means is the people who question their credentials are following the words and actions of people who also question their credentials. Which means the whole ‘things you should follow’ ends up being even more ridiculous.

While we should all be investing in our knowledge and awareness – and giving respect to those who keep doing work that tries to push things forward – that does not mean we should all be blindly doing the same thing as everyone else. If anything it means we need to be doing a whole bunch of different things from everyone else.

For example …

Read different books/magazine in different categories from different countries.

Follow people doing interesting things from different categories and cultures.

Be curious about people who make interesting things, not just talk about interesting things.

Learn from people who approach creativity in different ways to your own industry.

[Though I appreciate the irony of me telling people to follow what I do, haha]

All this is another reason why the industry needs to be hiring different sorts of people from different sorts of places and backgrounds … even though I’ve heard on the rare occasions that they do, they then tell them they need to be like the establishment to ‘be taken seriously’.

FFS!!!

While we all need to develop our craft, experience and knowledge … rather than apologising for having not done/read/followed the exact same person/process/book as every other planner – however good they may be – how about celebrating whatever it is you are doing, exploring and learning … because trying to find your own voice is a far more noble act than simply trying to replicate someone else’s.



The Fine Line Between Hero And Horrible …

Back from a nice long weekend.

Hey, if this makes you feel bad, imagine how my poor colleagues feel.

Anyway …

I recently read the book Hype, by Gabrielle Bluestone.

It is depressingly brilliant.

While it covers a huge range of topics, it centres on the actions and behaviours of Fyre Festival founder [or should I say, scammer] Billy McFarland.

Now I appreciate with worldwide coverage and 2 documentaries on the subject, you may think you know all that needs to be known, but apart from Gabrielle bringing some new information to the table, what makes it especially interesting is how she compares his actions to others who are regarded as business geniuses.

Like Elon Musk.

Now you might think that sounds like the actions of someone desperate to create hype for their new book. But no. It’s incredibly well written and researched … and as you turn page after page, with hustler/liar story after hustler/liar story, you come away thinking the whole world has fallen for the Emperors New Clothes trick.

Not to mention that either Billy McFarland is unlucky to be sentenced to jail or Elon Musk – and countless other business people and influencers – are lucky not to be.

Society loves its success stories.

It loves trying to ‘codify‘ the system.

But while only a few ever succeed, it doesn’t stop people blindly following some ‘proven’ rules. Often losing themselves in details rather than appreciating context.

All the while making the originator [or person who shouted the loudest, quickest] even more powerful and famous … before they end up a caricature of what they once were.

I’m seeing a lot of this in marketingland at the moment.

Now, I am not suggesting these people are doing it to ‘con’ anyone. Far from it. In fact their intentions are pretty wonderful. But somewhere along the line, their perspective has developed into a ‘system’ and that system now has a number of unquestionable and unshakeable rules attached to it which, ironically, is starting to negatively affect the very industry they want to help.

To be fair, they are not entirely responsible.

They are a bit … because they give their ‘system’ names that suggest intellectual superiority when it’s really ‘an educated beginners guide’, plus they conveniently turn a blind eye to how many of their students are executing what they learnt – without context or real audience understanding – so it ends up just being lowest common denominator thinking. But the real reason this situation is occurring is too many companies aren’t investing enough in talent or training, so they send people off to do courses with fancy names so they can all look and feel like they are.

Putting aside the fact this also highlights how many companies lack a philosophy regarding their approach and value to marketing, what this ‘one size fits all’ approach is doing is educating a whole generation of marketer/advertiser/company that talent, standards and creativity are not nearly as important as having people who can follow – and police – process, formats and parity.

We’re in danger of getting to the point where independent thinking is seen as dangerous.

Or weakness.

Or anything other than strength.

And while understanding how things work is important, creating a singular approach and process where building brands and creativity is approached like an airfix model – where the outcome is always the same, albeit with different brand names/colours attached – seems to be more about undermining the purpose of marketing rather than liberate it.

What makes this even more amusing is the brands who are attracting the greatest cultural momentum, loyalty and brand value right now are not following any of these ‘process rules’. More than that, they’re building their reputation and value through the creation of distinctive brand ideas that talk directly to their audiences rather than focusing on brand attribution that aims to be slightly memorable among their category.

[Please note, I’m talking about brands with a real business behind them, not just social hype]

Now I appreciate the context and circumstances of cultural brands and the brands who are adopting a marketing ‘system’ are very different … but what I’m trying to highlight is that we now find ourselves in this weird situation where the ambition for many brands is to not find ways to get ahead but to not be left behind – all the while bombarding the market with claims of innovation, new thinking, new opportunities.

And that’s why I loved reading Hype so much.

Not just because it pulled back the curtain on the hypocritical bullshit of so many self-appointed ‘business icons’, but it revealed where we’re all heading if we’re not careful … even though I know there will be people out there who read it and see it as their goal rather than their ruin.