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


The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Neon …

One of the things I’ve found fascinating over the past few years is watching consultancies AND platforms mock the value of advertising and then increasingly try and enter that space.

And while you could argue it’s because they saw an opportunity to do it ‘properly’, the way they have embraced it – and executed it – has shown they seem to want to be more like the beast they wanted to slay than the beast they are.

What do I mean?

Go to Cannes and the whole place has been taken over by corporations.

All the best locations, beaches, hotels are the domain of tech, consultancies and platforms.

Now you could say that’s because they’re the ones with all the money – and that’s true – but what is amusing is WHAT they do.

Because rather than reflect ‘a better way to do what those ad agencies used to do’ … they seem to be doing the same thing ad agencies used to do.

Parties.
Give-aways.
Celebrity talks.
Expensive dinners.

In fact the only thing that is different is how desperately bad their attempts to show ‘they’re creativity’ actually are.

Nothing brought this home more than a poster I recently saw promoting an advertising festival.

An advertising festival representing the ‘modern’ world of the industry.

This was it …

What. The. Hell?

Seriously … what is it?

I’m not just talking about the design and colour palette that could make a 1987 acid house party feel embarrassed … I’m talking about all of it.

The email automation masterclass.

The ‘scale your YouTube’ talk.

The $15 million ad storytelling formula class.

And let’s not forget the ‘thumb-stopping’ direct response scripts.

Look, I get small business may get something out of some of this.

And I appreciate there are many elements to run a successful business.

But this all comes across as used car salesman shit.

Worse, used car salesman shit where their office is a portacabin on a muddy industrial estate in Slough.

In all seriousness, what I find astounding is this must be what the people behind this conference must think is creativity. And don’t get me started on what it says about the people presenting there.

I include Scott Galloway who said ‘brands are dead’ and then not only invests in elevating his own brand, but starts selling courses on how to approach better brand strategy.

[For the record, I respect Scott Galloway hugely but when he said that – like when Mark Ritson said his advertising course was a ‘mini MBA’, when it is nothing at all like a MBA – I couldn’t help but feel their focus was becoming more about building their own cult than building better marketers. In fact, given their approaches have now been so optimised, systemised and codified … you could argue it’s actually undermining brand building because everyone is following the same approach and the result is passive corporate conformity. But I digress …]

I guess what I’m saying is that for all the smarts of modern marketing, the people behind this conference – and potentially the people at it – are revealing they know jack-shit about creativity or culture.

And you know what? That would be fine if they didn’t pretend they otherwise.

But for all their big Cannes events … agency buy-outs … and talk about advertising, the reality is they view creativity as a ‘wrapper’ for their engineering type processes.

A belief there is a singular approach to engage and grow – regardless of audience or category. That the features around a brand are more important than the brand. Or as I told WARC, that the condiments are more valuable than the steak.

Do not get me wrong, advertising has a lot of problems.

It’s got a lot it can learn from platforms and consultancies.

But at our best, we know how to use the power of creativity and culture in ways so many of thehaven’t got a clue about.

Now some may say that statement shows how out of date I am.

How contemporary business doesn’t care about all that.

And maybe that’s right … but while I could point out the vast majority of brands who are infectious to culture were not born anywhere near a ‘consultants proprietary marketing playbook’ … all I have to do is point at the AdWorld poster and say, “Look at that shit”.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there will be a bunch of valuable stuff at the conference.

I am sure it will attract tens of thousands of people.

It may make the organisers a shit-ton of cash.

But for all the smarts appearing at Adworld, they sure as shit don’t have any appreciation of style. And I would like to point out that I say this as someone who was wearing an ironic Celine Dion T-shirt when I typed this.

And with that, I wish you a good weekend … which only gets better for you when I let you know there is a national holiday here on Monday so there will be no post till Tuesday [I know, I just had 2 days off for national holiday – deal with it] … so with that, I leave you with a sneak-peak of the Adworld virtual after party dance floor.



Musicians Not Marketers …

Recently I saw this photo of Motorhead.

I fucking love it.

Not because I’m a die-hard Motorhead fan [though I’ve always loved Lemmy] but because it captures a time when music and art were interesting and dangerous partners-in-crime, not focus-group designed ‘brand assets’.

Please do not think this is a rant against people like Ed Sheeran or Dua Lipa.

I both respect and appreciate what they do.

They’re very talented and they’re very musical.

However the way they use music is very different to bands of the past.

Back then, artists like Motorhead used music as a form of expression, whereas modern singers/acts use it more like a product.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means they’re more marketer than musician.

After all, Ed Sheeran admits to using focus groups.

And Dua Lipa’s team acknowledge they closely follow trends.

For them, music is a ‘brand asset’ designed to help achieve specific business goals and targets.

I’m not knocking it, there’s a lot of money doing that … but what people – and marketers – seem to forget is there’s a whole career to be had choosing the alternative.

Where you focus on the idea not the assets.

Where you lead audiences, rather than chase them.

Where you mean everything to someone not something to everyone.

It’s why I found a recent comment by Lady Gaga interesting.

I love her. I think she’s amazing.

But recently she said “don’t call me a singer, I’m an artist”.

And while that might sound like a pretentious diva who also see’s music as a brand asset in a range of their products – it’s not.

It means she see’s what she does as art, which is far more interesting in terms of the possibilities of creativity … because it not about doing things right for others, it’s about doing things that feel right for her.

We need more artists in the World, not marketers.



Connect Don’t Communicate …

As many of you know, I’m quite the emotional guy.

[OK, I get it … that’s an understatement. Let’s leave it there]

But while this can sometimes result in me having an ‘Elton John’ moment [™ Elton John] I have always been a huge believer in the value and importance of empathy.

Part of this is because my Mum always told me to be interested in what others are interested in, but as I got more and more into my planning career, I realised that if you can truly understand the feelings and emotions someone is experiencing, it enables you to make work that others will also feel and resonate with.

A perfect example was this work we did ages ago for Nike in China.

It had already been decided the idea for the global 2012 Olympics Campaign was going to be Greatness. The problem was that when we spoke to kids all over China, they didn’t feel they were ever able to refer to themselves as great.

They felt that was a term saved for the chosen few. The people who the government deemed as having done things that raised the entire nations profile and success.

Of course they didn’t articulate it like this … we got there by spending time with them and slowly pulling away the layers of codes and confusion so we could understand what they wanted to say rather than what was being said.

Or said another way, we wanted to understand rather than get answers.

Now I am not denying it took a while … and I also accept being an Olympic campaign, we had the time and the money to do things right. But the thing is this rigour was worth it … because not only did it turn into an incredible campaign … not only did it become China’s most successful ever campaign … it helped changed attitudes towards what greatness is and allowed millions of kids to feel they could feel valued and valuable.

This is the work.

The reason I say this is because for the past few months, I’ve been working with The University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project in exploring new ways to use creativity to engage and deeply resonate with audiences.

Thanks to the work of Sir Richard Faull, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland and Nuala Gregory, a fellow of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries – also at The University of Auckland – we have explored and experimented with a whole host of different creative formats to identify which one can create the best conditions for connection.

The findings have been astounding.

While the vast majority of communication spend goes towards television, digital and outdoor advertising … none of these had the same impact on audiences as the power of the poem.

In fact, when poems were used as the content for television, digital and outdoor, the increase in engagement went up on average 13.3%.

THIRTEEN!

OK, I know that may not sound a lot on first impression, but when you consider last year, companies spent SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIVE BILLION DOLLARS GLOBALLY on advertising … if this can improve connection to potential audiences by 13%, then it has huge commercial opportunity.

[And by that, I mean for brands, creativity and the University of Auckland]

Now I suppose on one level, none of this should be a surprise.

Rap is a kind of poetry.

A way to communicate that’s felt as well as heard.

But while we have started to explore this, our focus has been on poetry and the results, as I detailed above, have been fascinating.

Sir Richard believes this may be heavily influenced by the challenges the World has faced over the past few years. Where the feeling of isolation of helplessness has created an yearning for any sort of emotional connection. And while TV may have their manifestos, they often come over as contrived … whereas poems have a fragility to them that enables them to better resonate and connect to audiences.

For example … of the literally thousands of poems tested, this was one that achieved one of the highest scores, despite being from an anonymous author.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders
But through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

While it is deliberately ambiguous, it appeared to connect to audiences as they saw it as capturing the struggles they felt in life. Where there is still an expectation for progress and yet the conditions people find themselves having to deal with are increasingly harsh and difficult.

Other poems that resonated – and follow a similar theme to the previous example, except it is by contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong – include this:

And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way

As well as a piece from his work entitled ‘Life’, which has a much darker theme:

Loneliness is my hiding place
Breast feeding my self
What more can I say?
I have swallowed the bitter pill

We are still working on the research but have set up an instagram that lists the poems that have tested particularly well.

I would love it if you could visit the page and let me know how the poems affect you. If they do.

Now I appreciate this leaves me open to all sorts of ridicule.

And I assure you that I am not trying to suggest poems are the future of effective advertising.

This is simply a project to see if there are techniques that allow us to better connect emotionally to audiences without necessarily needing to spend months in the field meeting endless people.

While I am part of this work, it is ultimately the property of Auckland University.

Fortunately, they have said I can promote the work because they would love to have more respondents take part. So if you are interested in discovering more – and helping see where this creative adventure could lead, can I ask you to sign up here.

That said, I would recommend you do it today … because studies have found April 1st is the optimal day to get people to sign up to ‘research’ that is actually just some 80’s song lyrics from Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses and Queen.

Have a great day. I know I will.



When Forest Were Great And Football Ads Were Poor …

Once upon a time, Nottingham Forest were magic.

So magic, they were Kings of Europe. Twice in a row.

So magic, they had a song about it.

So magic, Adidas used them as proof of their football credentials in ads …

That team was amazing.

I even remember those boots.

But I must admit I don’t remember Adidas being the ‘science of sport’ – even though that is the most German sport tagline ever written – all I remember is that at my school, Adidas stood for All Day I Dream About Sex”.

Even though I probably didn’t even know what sex was back then,.

And while I still find it hard to accept my beloved team wore the football gear of the enemy – though I did try to get NIKE to sponsor them, once even including it as a recommendation in a strategy deck which was met by howling laughter – I accept it is nice to see at least one international brand recognised their incredible achievements.

But for all that, Adidas – and Nottingham Forest – will never beat Nike for this.

Still the best World Cup spot. Ever.

Unlikely ever to be beaten.

And trust me, we tried. Hard.

Which maybe says more about what clients want these days than creative ambition.

Maybe,



Twisted Logic Is More Interesting Than Corporate Logic …

When I was living in Shanghai, I met a young guy who said to me,

“I think the Chinese government are rock n’ roll”.

Given I couldn’t imagine anyone less rock n’ roll, I asked why they said that. To which they replied:

“You told me rock n’ roll was about doing whatever you want to do, regardless what other people think. That’s the Chinese government”.

Mind. Blown.

Never in a million years would I consider the Communist Party rock n’ roll … and now that’s all I can think. I say this because recently I had another of these moments.

It was when I read this:

How amazing is that?!

Now whenever I talk to my friends named Tim, I keep imagining them as a moth.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

If you don’t leave space for conversations and understanding, you will miss out on these little gems of opinion. These things that can make you look at subject in a completely different way. That can take you to different place with even bigger possibilities than you could imagine.

And yet we – as an industry – aren’t leaving space for this.

We actually think getting into the real world is a hindrance.

Too messy. Too much time. Too many opinions.

So we actually advocate building creativity and brands from a weird sort of recipe book.

Where equal parts questionable data, brand assets and self-serving logic come together to make something that looks like a cake but generally tastes bloody awful.

Because we’d rather follow what everyone else does than create something everyone else wants.

Valuing attribution more than change.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I get the importance of all these things.

I agree and value their role in brand building and creativity.

But as I wrote a while back, it’s utterly bonkers that as an industry, we value the condiments of the meal more than the steak.

Recently, someone called me irresponsible for demanding my team spend time meeting, talking, listening and understanding people from all walks of life.

They literally used that word: Irresponsible!

Now I don’t mind admitting there’s many things I could be accused of being irresponsible for, but valuing the role culture has in liberating creativity and possibility isn’t one of them.

No wonder society is so bored of what we do.

No wonder brands have had to reframe bribery as loyalty.

Or membership.

Because while we think we have all the answers, culture has the interesting.