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


If A Video Game Company Can Do It, What’s Your Excuse?

For all the talk about diversity and inclusion being spouted by companies, I don’t see much diversity and inclusion.

I still see companies mainly filled with people like me and where there is diversity, it tends to not be at the management level.

And on the rare occasion that it is, you then see the media go after these people with a zeal rarely seen towards anyone white. Or male.

Of course, diversity is more than simply heritage … though companies often use that as a convenient excuse to not hire People of Colour, ignoring that – SHOCK HORROR – People of Colour can also come from low income areas, have physical disabilities, be members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or have any other number of ‘minority’ characteristics you wish to throw at me … which is why I am so excited by a new video game that deals with diversity head on.

Forza Horizon 5 is a brilliant racing game on XBox.

The graphics are amazing.
They’ve introduced a ‘story’ mode to the game.
And the world you get to explore is almost limitless.

But … and it’s a big but … the really brilliant thing is the level of customisation they allow you to make of your character.

Look at this …

And this …

How amazing is that!

You can customise your identity and add prosthetics.

No doubt, this will cause huge offence to presenters on Fox News for succumbing to ‘wokeness’ which makes it even better … but they’re missing the point in 2 fundamental areas.

1. Being called woke means being called someone who considers the context and needs of others so they can live a similar life in terms of opportunity as you. For me that’s a compliment, not an insult.

2. The option is not to get headlines – though it does, because of its rarity – but to allow people who are minorities, feel seen and valued and celebrated for who they are, not who they aren’t. Anyone who thinks that’s a bad thing to do can basically go fuck themselves.

The gaming industry has a bunch of issues – from how it operates to the storylines of the games it makes – however they seem to be far more committed and focused on making change than so many of the companies who talk about their D&I programs on social media and in magazine articles.

People can accuse Forza Horizon of jumping on the woke bandwagon all they like.

They can shout that they’re only doing it because they don’t want to alienate potential customers.

They can say it’s a ‘one off’ and should be treated as such.

People can say what they like … it’s still more than most have done and will mean far more to the millions of people who have been ignored by companies for decades for no other reason than simply being a bit different to supposedly ‘common’ characteristics.

And I can tell you, that will mean more to them than some press release about a companies D&I program that doesn’t change a damn thing.

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Thank you to James Whatley for letting me steal his screen shots, even though I own the game myself. THAT’s how lazy I am. Not that you didnt know it.



Judge An Agency On What Everyone Doesn’t Want To Work On …

This is an unashamedly big plug for the agency I am going to work at.

The wonderful Colenso.

And the best way to do that is to talk about a client I had when I was at Wieden.

When I was getting to know her, I asked why she had come straight to us rather than pitch the business like every other client seemed to do.

She said it was easy, if we could find a way to make people interested in butter [Lurpak] and milk [Cravendale] then she wanted to work with us.

What’s funny is when that piece of business first came in, it was not something that stoked the interest or passion of the creative department.

Butter? Milk? Pah!

And yet, because of the way they saw the creative opportunity for the brand, the openness of the client towards doing something new and the incredible way the idea was shot, it changed … to the point it is one of the campaigns people are hungry to work on.

I say this because Colenso recently did a campaign for Pedigree about dog adoption.

Now I get dog adoption may be more favourable to work on than butter or milk would be, but it probably would not be the first choice for many creatives.

And yet, like for Lurpak, it has become something special. A creative opportunity everyone wants to have a crack at. A client who now has a long history of great and effective work under their name. A category of advertising that has literally been turned on its head.

One of my favourites is this …

How lovely is that eh?

Well they recently launched a new campaign … however instead of this being about replacing kids, this was about preparing people for them.

In essence, they discovered a huge percentage of millennials were delaying parenthood.

While there are a whole host of reasons – all valid – the lovely folks at Colenso thought this was a great way to tackle their challenge, which was to position dog adoption as a great way to get you ready for being a Mum or a Dad.

Yes it’s tongue-in-cheek, but as a cat adopter, I can say it’s also true.

Though what really helped me get ready for Otis was running a strategy department in China.

I know I like chaos, but that was something else.

That aside, I love this work, and it’s another reason why Colenso just won agency of the decade for the 2nd time in a row.

Once is amazing.

Twice is incredible.

But twice in a row? Unprecedented.

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.

Not just because I want to work at a place that loves creativity, but it means they hold, value and nurture their standards.

At a time where that is often the thing people will let go of to get money in, those who are stubborn to what they will let out the door are the places where everyone wants to get in the door. Because as the old adage says, it’s easier to get to the top than stay there.



Challenger Brands That Challenge …

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with challenger brands.

Some were overtly challenger … some were more in terms of their internal attitude and approach … but in all cases, they were up for a fight and were happy to take it straight to the competitor they wanted to play against.

Now forcing people to pick a side is not a new strategy … it’s been around for ages.

From religions to rock bands to sport to almost everything in-between.

And while some of the challenger brands I’ve worked with over the years became the beast they were created to slay, what united them all wasn’t just their ambition, but their dedication to doing something that fundamentally challenged the convention.

I’m not talking about an ad that said they were different.

Or a single product ingredient that claimed they were different but were still exactly the same.

I’m talking about a fundamental, distinctive alternative to what has been there before.

From features, to behaviours, to values to standards to design.

All in commitment.

Shit or bust.

Now we have a lot of brands today that claim to do that and be that.

Brands that go direct to the customer.

Brands that offer their services on the internet.

In the majority of cases, they’re not real challengers.

They might like to think they are.

The people who led the change probably are.

But having an internet bank that claims to be different but offers exactly the same products and services – albeit with a ‘cool name and choice of ATM card design’ – is not challenging much.

Nor is the 15th razor/toothbrush/haircare company who go direct to their customers.

They’re definitely an alternative, but they’re not a challenger.

In fact, given in many cases, they offer no distinctive element to their product or service to build something bigger than simply supplying razor blades/toothbrushes/haircare products to people at the lowest rate possible, all they’re doing is commoditising themselves to oblivion.

No, challenger brands don’t enter the market with an attitude of ‘minimal viable product’ – which basically translates to “we’re interested to see if it works, but if it doesn’t – no biggie”, they enter it with fully focused, fully engaged commitment.

You can read a lot about these in Adam Morgan’s brilliant book Eating The Big Fish … though, because of when it came out, it only refers to a challenger brands from a certain period of time rather than the ones of the modern era … whether that’s Tony’s Chocolonely, Fenty, Fortnite or even Greta.

But the reason I’m talking about this is because of that picture at the top of the post.

The iconic ‘we try harder’ announcement by Avis.

Maybe the first example where marketing embraced being a challenger.

We forget how impactful this campaign was when it came out in the 60’s.

Back then, the industry was all about superlatives … the biggest, the most successful, the most loved etc etc.

For a brand to come out and say, “we’re not the first choice”, was a big thing.

But this was not a mere marketing trick, Avis did indeed have big ambitions and knew that the only way they stood any chance of making it was if they indeed, ‘try harder’.

From making sure every car was washed before it went out.

Checking that the glove boxes and – because this was the 60’s – ashtrays were emptied.

Customer service people trained to help, not just take your money.

Not having to wait for ages to get given your rental.

All sounds the standard now, but back then? No way.

And on top of that, they then ran ads telling people to complain if they found the experience didn’t match the promise … because they never wanted to be seen as having the passive attitude of a number 1 brand – where their goal is to protect their revenue rather than reward their customers.

Which leads to the point of this post.

This.

Yep, it’s a continuation of the We Try Harder campaign.

Though, calling it a ‘campaign’ cheapens it, because it was their purpose. I don’t mean that in the wank way it is being used today. At no point were Avis saying. ‘We Try Harder To Make The World Better’. No, this was all about them trying harder for them. Which is not only more believable, it had a genuine benefit to the people who used them.

Which leads back to the ad.

Specially, the ad that features the President of Avis’ phone number.

So you can complain.

Directly to them.

Imagine that today?

You can’t can you, because not only do companies – including Avis – give customers who wish to complain the absolute runaround with endless email forms, faceless processes and protocols – all while claiming this is a more ‘helpful and efficient’ process for their customers – but because you don’t feel many companies are really trying harder at all.

Now it’s all about efficiency.

Removal of friction.

Basically making you do it all yourself but charging you as if you weren’t.

Now I have to admit, I don’t know if this ended up being the real President of Avis’ phone number … even though I really hope it was … but I know this ethos drove that brand to continued growth for decades.

Sadly, at some point, it went from purpose to a tagline and then Avis as a cultural force was done.

Which is the big lesson for us all.

Because while few would ever start a company to be like everyone else, the reality is many end up doing just that.

And while we hear people all talking about being the next Apple or Nike, they have to understand you don’t get there with a playbook, you get there with a singular focus on what you believe, what you value and what you are going to destroy to create.



Identity Is More Valuable Than Discounts …

Loyalty.

One of the most overused, misunderstood words ever used.

At least in marketing.

Too often companies/agencies think the word – or, the modern version of it, ‘membership’ – gives them the right to churn out all manner of contrived marketing under the guise of it being for the benefit of their members … when we all know it’s just a badly disguised attempt to get people to spend more money with them.

It’s so transparent you could put it in your garden and call it a greenhouse.

But recently I saw an example of a brand that understands what being a member should mean. How it should feel.

Because contrary to what many companies seem to believe, membership is as much about give as it is take.

I’ve heard far too many people narrow it down to ‘transactional value’.

What a company gives you is in proportion to what their audience gives them.

Data for discounts.

Purchases for discounts.

Information for access to stuff. And discounts.

Mechanical. Contrived. Commercial. Soulless.

And while I get the commercial value in this approach and acknowledge some do it very well … apart from the fact it’s now condition of entry for any commercial organisation, that’s not what real membership is about, just the illusion of it. And often, this illusion isn’t even for the audience, but for the marketing department of the brand and their agency.

Having a card that gives you discounts or questionable points that – if you’re lucky – can be used for some supposed benefit or other, may increase the amount of times you transact with a brand, but it doesn’t mean the audience give a shit about them.

And maybe companies don’t care about that, they just want your money.

But they should.

Because if people are transacting purely for convenience or routine, you may find they’re susceptible to going to someone who shows they understand who they really are, not just how much money they have to spend.

Nothing highlights what real membership is like, like sport.

Yes they expect stuff from their team.

Yes they can be vocal when things go wrong.

But …

Members can deal with loss.

Members can deal with pain.

Members can even deal with scandal.

All they really want is to feel their presence counts.

That they’re seen. That they’re valued. That they’re respected.

That both parties are putting in equal amounts of graft for the common goal.

Not so the club can flog them more of their stuff, but so they can feel they play an acknowledged and accepted role in making the team better, more distinctive and more special.

And while there’s a bunch of programmes that do this – and some do involve giving discounts and access to products before they hit the market – the most powerful are where teams target members hearts, not just their wallets.

Doing stuff they value, not what they want you to value.

Stuff they didn’t have to do, but still did.

Stuff that means they went out of their way rather than expecting their members to always go out of theirs.

It doesn’t even have to be a grand gesture, it just needs to be a gesture that proves you get how important it is to them, rather than just say you do.

But here’s the best bit … when you do that properly, you find those members will want to buy more of your stuff anyway.

No need for any contrived ‘membership’ marketing.

No need to claim you are as loyal to them as they are to you.

No need to push ‘signing up’ every time they spend any amount of cash.

Because ‘transactional value’ is a byproduct of the emotional relationship you have together, not the cause.

You’d have thought brands would have got this by now, especially as the approach so many currently favour is not that different to when the internet first started and people would get inundated with ‘e-newsletters’ from brands, simply because they once handed over their email address because they were interested in a single thing they said.

I often wonder if the brands that follow this approach think Argos has the best membership program in the Universe, simply because people keep stealing pens from their stores.

If you are one of those wondering this, let me help you.

They don’t. People just steal their pens from them. Because they can.

Me included.

And yes, I appreciate someone could say that’s ‘transactional value’ but actually it’s just shitty free advertising from a shitty free pen. It’s the same approach Virgin Atlantic had with their Upper Class salt and pepper sets that literally had ‘stolen from Virgin Atlantic’ printed on the bottom of them.

Because it was free advertising. Literally included in their cost of operations.

Look, having programs in place that drives sales value is a smart thing to do.

But doing the same as everyone else and claiming people have some sort of deeper connection with you because of it, is ridiculous.

Transactional value is the opposite of what membership is really about.

Because membership isn’t just about what you have, but how it makes you feel.

Or said another way, who it makes you feel you are … who you are a part of.

And with that, have a look at this …



When Things Don’t Make Sense, They Sometimes Lead Us To Somewhere Better …

One of the things I loved about R/GA was they were one of the few agencies who truly understood creative tech.

It was never an add on. It was never just about the ‘shiny, new thing’. It was central to the creative process … enabling ideas to explore places you may never have thought about.

It was one place where I really felt I might be able to be part of something that outlived me and while I’m not there anymore, I still think that’s pretty cool.

I say this because in the world of innovation – and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word, not just within the marketing industry – so much of it seems small.

Yes, I know innovation can be executed in multiple ways.

The process.

The technology.

The integration.

But for the people on the street, if innovation doesn’t result in an experience or product they’ve never seen before, too often they end up dismissing it out of hand.

That’s hard for companies.

Especially when the moment they do make something new, the public fawn in delight for half a second, then go off in search for the next new thing.

It’s this situation that paralyses a lot of companies.

They know they have to innovate to keep moving forward but the financial risks involved – both in terms of development, application, competition and audience adoption – mean it’s far more ‘sensible’ to make degrees of change.

So we end up with ‘new features’ that serve little or no purpose because they’re not innovative enough to make people pay attention and not useful enough to make people value what it does for them.

And it’s for this reason why I bloody love this piece of tech madness from Amazon/Ring.

Yes, I know it’s an evolution – albeit an evolution on steroids – of a home security cam.

Yes, I know it’s being sold as a solid and sensible piece of technology.

BUT IT’S A SECURITY CAM ON A DRONE!!!

How nuts is that?

I would have loved to have been in the meeting where that idea came about.

Not to mention the meeting where they had to ask for R&D funding from Bezos.

I wonder if it was a brainstorm and someone just threw the idea out there as a pisstake and then, after everyone laughed, someone said, “that could work”.

Do I think it’s a good idea?

Yeah … maybe.

I mean, they do make other security products that, arguably, are much better protection for the home because [1] you can see them outside the house which [2] acts as a deterrent, so a criminal is less likely to smash a window or door to get in.

But even then I still love it.

Even with one of the worst product demo films I’ve ever seen.

Because at the end of the day, the idea it got made.

An idea, that is frankly utterly bonkers, got produced … and in this world where too many companies are putting the no into innovation, that’s infectiously intoxicating.

But before you accuse me of celebrating creative tech security indulgence … there’s another important thing here.

Because almost regardless how well this sells – though I think it will do brilliantly, simply on ridiculous novelty – it has just opened the door to so many more things.

Not just in terms of what the next iteration of that product will be.

Not just in terms of what the competition will now create.

But in terms of what is possible.

From home security to medical supervision to stuff we haven’t considered yet.

A few years ago I read an article by a tech journalist who said the biggest thing he needed to remember was to not judge new technology by the standards of the established. He had to acknowledge things may not be seamless. That products may not be perfect. Because if he didn’t, he may contribute to killing an idea before it’s had a chance to become what it could be.

It’s an important lesson because all ideas start off fragile.

They need space and time to grow. To get strong. To evolve.

They need nurturing, crafting.

Hell, in some cases, they need humanity to catch up to where the idea already is.

While I fully expect Amazon/Ring to cop a load of piss-taking from people and the media, it’s worth remembering that Fuel Band – another product widely questioned by media and society when it came out – opened the door to creative uses of tech that directly led to NIKE being able to make products that are now relied upon – and loved – by millions of athletes all around the World.

Or said another way.

Without Fuel Band – developed by R/GA – we may be living in the athletic dark ages.

So here’s to more crazy creative tech ideas.

Because as mad as they may seem at the beginning, they might just be the things that push us all to somewhere greater.