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


When Hijacking Culture Is Copyright Theft In Disguise …

Love it or loathe it, but Wordle has captured the world’s attention. Whether it will continue to do that now the NYTimes has bought it, is anyones guess, but right now, it’s peak popularity.

Hell, even I love it and I HATE word games.

Crosswords? Hate.

Scrabble? Hate.

And yet whether it’s the last thing I do before I go to sleep or the first thing I do when I wake up, I’m playing the days challenge. And I’m brilliant at it. Hahaha.

Anyway, I was on Twitter when I recently saw this from Air New Zealand.

Look, I get it’s a competitive world.

I get brands are looking for anything that can help them stand out.

And I get ‘hijacking culture’ is a cheat way of doing this.

But there’s 2 reasons why this approach is tragic rather than magic.

First is it’s Air New Zealand.

Of all the airline brands out there, they are a pioneer. An innovator. A leader.

They’ve created, influenced and changed the airline industry in ways few have come close.

From being the first to make ‘in-flight safety videos’, entertainment to creating economy seats that turn into beds.

Ripping off Wordle doesn’t represent any of this.

If anything, it does the opposite.

But then, when I see the work they are putting out these days, maybe it all makes sense.

When a nation that prides itself as explorers and adventures has their National Airline promote their role in a post-covid world as being ‘we fly for you’ … you have to question if they realise what they’ve done or if they made a conscious effort to ditch the approach that made them great and forward thinking in favour of the sort of bland, contrived, unrealistic and meaningless twaddle of big corporation 90’s advertising.

Like this.

From 1991.

God I hope not. They are better than that and NZ needs them to be better than that.

Which leads to the other reason.

Hijacking culture.

What’s interesting is that so many brands do it.

As I said, I get why … but 99% of them have failed to understand how it really works and so we now live in a world where the approach is so common, it doesn’t surprise anyone.

If anything, it un-hijacks culture.

So how does it really work?

Well having worked with the brand and agency that arguably created the approach – or at least mastered it – the secret is to do something that adds to culture, not just steals from it.

Which means having an actual right to be there.

Then do something that opens things up, not just repeat what’s already happened.

Adding a point of view to the situation not just adding more noise and clutter to it.

Of course, even with all that, it still doesn’t mean it will work … but its definitely going to be better than the desperate amateur hour that so many brands favour.

Who think it makes them look cool but forgetting if you’re trying to be that, you’re definitely not ever going to be that.



People In Glass Houses Shouldn’t Be Throwing Stones …

One of the things I hated when I lived in China was hearing people slag off the country for all manner of things.

While some of the accusations were true, the reality was China was not the only country that participated in such behaviour but people chose to ignore that.

Not that I’m defending what was going on, because even though I rarely saw any of it – in fact I saw more in the US and UK when I lived there – I knew it was going on.

However there were some claims that showed people didn’t know what the fuck they were going on about.

The amount of people who would come to Shanghai from America and say, “let’s do ideas that force the government to deal with the pollution crisis”.

They’d say it like they were the very first people to identify China had a problem with pollution – which is possibly the greatest sign of arrogance you could have. So we would tell them.

China knows there is a pollution problem.

They are actively fighting it.

They’ve been the biggest investor in green tech for decades.

Proportionally, they still pump out less pollution into the air than America.

In fact, up until the last few years, they pumped out less pollution than America full stop.

America had been doing that for decades.

And there’s parts of London with a higher pollution index than most parts of China.

Then they’d stop acting like they’re a superhero and start understanding their perspective had been driven by media bias not cultural understanding.

But there were some things that were accusations. The lack of respect for copyright being one.

Of course, it’s not just in China this happens, but it definitely happens there. A lot.

Even now, I still think Uncle Martian is peak-plagiarism … mainly because they didn’t just make replicas and sell them as originals, they created a whole new brand based on the intellectual property of brands including Jordan and Under Armour.

I say that because I recently saw another version of this.

Maybe not quite as bad as Uncle Martian, but pretty terrible al the same.

But not from China … so you can keep your prejudiced thoughts to yourself.

It’s that brand at the top of this post that looks awfully like this …

I am an enormous fan of Liquid Death.

I love what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Not only are they the true embodiment of a cult brand – with some amazing cult behaviours, such as their $100,000 country club membership … or buy a slab of Liquid Death – they have made drinking water in public cool for men.

That’s something no other beverage brand has pulled off.

So while I am sure they would think someone ripping them off is a sign they’re doing something right, it’s also a sign some lazy, parasitic pricks are ripping them off.

Though as George once said when we once pitched an idea to a client who said, “but what if we just asked another agency to do your idea for cheaper?”

If you choose to go with someone copying someone else’s idea rather than the people who actually came up and created the idea, then you deserve all the disappointment and confusion you get. Including the lawsuit.



Audience Is Someone, Not Everyone …

A few weeks ago someone sent me this picture …

Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also right.

At least to a certain audience group.

Which seems to be a thing we’re increasingly forgetting.

Quite a lot of the time, it feels like we experience some sort of group deliberate ignorance. Preferring to suggest ideas will appeal to everyone because we live in a world where the slightest whiff of ‘niche’ is immediately dismissed by clients.

It’s why we have target audiences that are 25-54.

It’s why we have ads that are about people rather than for people.

It’s why we pretend entire generations THINK AND ACT EXACTLY THE SAME.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Especially when think about the huge amounts of money being spent on research to ‘know our audience better’.

Great brands sacrifice.

They want to mean everything to someone rather than be something for everyone.

Which is why they know who they are. Know who they matter to. And know what to focus on.

That doesn’t mean they are limiting their success … they’re growing it.

Valuing who they are as much as what they earn and building scale from leading change rather than blindly chasing popularity.

It’s the foundation of why they charge more, sell more and are desired more. Especially compared to the product amoebas who spend their millions communicating to anyone about absolutely nothing..

So while people in our industry may smugly question the intelligence of the people who wrote that sign on the back of the ute … if we were to invite them to look at what our industry says and does, I’m pretty sure they’d think we’re the bigger joke.



Design Changes Possibilities …

Yesterday I wrote about laziness in retail, well today I’m going to write about when you care deeply about it.

Have a look at this packaging:

Maybe it’s because I’m half Italian.

Maybe it’s because pasta is my undisputed favourite food.

Maybe it’s because the brand uses wheat from the region of Italy my family is from.

But how utterly glorious is it?!

It does everything packaging should do …

It is distinctive without trying too hard.

It shows the quality of the product inside.

It feels premium without being pretentious and charming without being childish.

It is a bloody masterpiece.

I love that because the pasta shape is an integral part of the packaging design, it allows the overall look to be clean while still being informative.

What’s even better is that while it started out as a project by Russian designer, Nikita Konkin … it ended up being turned into a real brand by German company, Greenomic Delikatessen, who bought the idea of Nikita.

Or said another way …

Creativity turned an everyday product into something with a highly desirable and distinctive commercial value.

Isn’t it funny how all those marketing training programs being flogged left, right and centre never talk about this sort of thing. Instead it’s all dot-to-dot processes to build identikit branded assets, eco-systems and strategy frameworks.

But then this also shows the difference between design and adland.

Designers identify real problems and look for ways to solve them with clarity, simplicity and distinctiveness. Whereas too many in adland choose what problem that want to solve and then add all manner of complexity to the solution in a bid to look like they’re fucking geniuses or to try and justify the ever decreasing fee the procurement department is forcing on them.

Remember Peggy?

The ‘innovation’ JWT Australia claimed ‘would allow their client to empower people to maximise their day through weather aggregation technology’. What that bullshit translated to was a ‘scam product and app’ that would tell you if it was going to rain so you’d know if you should hang your clothes out to dry

Yep, forget weather apps.

Forget USING YOUR EYES TO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.

JWT was going to revolutionise the ‘washing line process’.

By making it longer, shitter and more expensive.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Unsurprisingly nothing happened with it because it was utter bollocks whereas everything happened for Nikita because he actually saw something that had real commercial value without extensive investment.

However in classic Russian melodrama style, he says he came up with the idea when he was “in love and perhaps this influenced me, though it could be just a coincidence” … which suggests he’s no longer in love and probably spending his time designing vodka bottles that look like your heart is dying. Or something.

I have written a lot in the past about the importance and value of design.

Whether it was the brilliant SONOS ‘sound waves‘ or the potential of using BK’s new logo as an emoji for food ordering.

Underpinning all of this is consideration, simplicity and craft.

Yes, I appreciate a personal project affords you more time than a client project … but designers are getting it right more often than adland and yet the talent in adland is there.

There’s tons of it. Everywhere.

And while there are still some amazing things coming out from the industry, I can’t help but feel design is pushing the possibilities of creativity more … which means the issue for adland must be something else.

Whether that is time, expectation, budgets or relationships, I’m not sure … but whatever it is, the attitude of ‘good enough is good enough’ is far too prevalent these days.

Or should I say, it is until someone like Nikita comes along and shows companies what they could have if they allow the experts to show them how they see the World rather than being told what to create by a committee of middle managers who value speed over quality and lack taste, judgement and real understanding of their audience.

It’s not easy to make something great.

But as a packet of pasta proves, it’s worth it.

Creatively, commercially and culturally.



In The MetaVerse, One Person Is Outside Laughing At All Of Us …

OK, I should point out I actually think the Metaverse has incredible potential.

It could revolutionise education, medicine and ignite the creation of industries that don’t even exist yet. Which is why I am still utterly baffled why Zuckerberg thought the best way to sell the technology was by putting out that utterly shit video … where you saw him and his ‘mates’ not only do things that are all possible right now, but were worse in terms of quality, creativity and interactivity.

And then I saw this picture and everything became clear …

Maybe Zuck doesn’t give a damn about the Metaverse.

Maybe he doesn’t want to help humanity evolve and develop.

Maybe the only reason he’s doing it is for the same reason a lot of conmen do things …

Because when you can distract your target, you can rob them when they’re not looking.

Now before Mr Z’s lawyers try and sue me for every penny I’ve got for saying that, I would like to point out two things.

1. I said ‘maybe’ …

That means I am absolutely not suggesting Mr Zuckerberg is a conman or only doing Metaverse for conman purposes. I am only suggesting that could be possible, however unlikely that is. Similar to me saying I could be a catwalk model.

2. Be honest. That photo is very, very creepy.

Whoever allowed that photo to get out at Facebook … I mean Meta … was either an idiot or a hero. Because when I look at that photo, I can’t help but think of this ad … except with a totally different ending.

Rather than everyone being saved in the nick of time – thanks to the hero coming in at the last moment and destroying the screen that is hypnotising and blinding the audience so they follow the words of evil – no one comes to save them, so evil walks past all of his hypnotised and blinded victims, smiling to himself that’s he got them exactly where he wants them.