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


Why Business Needs To Be More Seinfeld …

I was never a fan of Seinfeld.

Then I’ve never been much of a fan of Jerry Seinfeld either.

I always found him a bit of condescending, self-righteous prick.

Oh I get he is smart.

His observational skills are almost unparalleled.

But you can be a genius and still be an asshole. Step on down Elon Musk.

However recently I read something Jerry said that made me dislike him less.

Not simply because he didn’t know who McKinsey were, but because of what he highlighted is the problem with them. Or more specifically, the problem companies who use them, have.

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this paints Jerry as a control freak.

And I also acknowledge that many companies hire McKinsey because they think the challenge they face is hard – rather than easy.

But what I do like about what he says is he won’t outsource his responsibility.

Sure, he could trust those around him more … and sure, his words smack of egomaniac … but to be fair to him, the product he sells is himself – his personality, his character, his humour – so it makes perfect sense he is obsessive about what goes out under his name because he cares deeply about his reputation, values and his quality control.

And that’s a major problem these days.

Too many don’t.

Oh they’ll say they do.

They’ll run internal and external communication that reinforce they do.

But then they’ll go and outsource their responsibilities and decisions to ‘for profit’ external organisations. Either because they don’t want the pressure … the issue is beyond their abilities … or they want someone to blame if things go wrong.

And the issue with this is the external organisation who are now responsible for answering this challenge, often do it with little to no consideration of who they’re doing it for.

How their clients look at the world.

The nuances and quirks that define who the company is and how they act.

So they provide a solution that does exactly what has been asked of them and nothing more.

Solutions agnostic of client values, beyond some superficial characteristics.

And this has resulted in a world filled with identikit functional solutions. Solutions that answer the issue, but at the cost of commoditisation. And all because senior people – who are paid handsomely to be responsible for their organisations wellbeing and growth – decided to outsource their responsibility to another organisation, even though they know they will never care as much about them as they should care about themselves.

Of course not everyone is like this.

Some are as committed and obsessive about how they do things as what they do.

But there are far too many who look for quick wins.

Easy answers.

Less pressure or responsibility.

Which is why I have always thought whether you are a shareholder or an employee, knowing how much the most senior people understand, value and protect the standards, nuance and quirks of the company they represent – not simply the balance sheet – acts as a good indicator you’re with a company who respects the value of their own value.

Not simply in terms of profit.

Nor in reputation.

But in the standards and values that drives all they do and create.

Which is my way of saying that while I still think Jerry Seinfeld is a bit of a dick, I now respect him for knowing where his responsibilities lie.

To both himself, his future and his fans.

Now if only there were more companies and brands who lived by the same mantra.

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Why Big Doesn’t Mean Better …

Scale.

A single word that has become the barrier to so much.

How big can you get it?
How much can you make it worth?
How do you plan to expand, expand, expand.

Now I get it …

If you want – or need – investors, they want to feel their cash will grow.

But the by-product of this is that scale has now become the measure we define ourselves by.

If it’s not big, it’s not worth it.
If it’s not the largest, it’s not the greatest.
If it isn’t known around the world, it’s not worth caring about.

And I’m not just talking in terms of investment, but in so many fields.

Advertising is one of them.

And I certainly have been guilty of it.

Thinking working on global brands meant I was somehow better than those who worked on more local clients.

But thankfully, I quickly learned that was bollocks.

Because on top of everything else, far too often global brands are a shitshow of politics and hierarchy.

Wading through pools of treacle.
That are located inside a maze.
Constantly being moved around.
In the dark.
All in a bid to delay making a decision.
Because not pissing off your boss is more important than creating value for customers.

Which is why for all the NIKE’s, Spotify’s and Metallica’s there’s a whole lot more … well. let’s just say there’s a whole lot more of those other sort of global clients.

And while I’ve been luckier than most with the global clients I’ve worked with – which is fortunate given most of my career has been working with them – the reality is it’s got nothing to do with their scale and everything to do with the values and aspirations of the individuals you’re working with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow … of course they do and that’s what they’re paying you to help them achieve it.

However growth and scale are different things.

Growth is building, evolving, creating and changing.

Scale is power, speed, conformity and consistency,

And that’s why people focused on scale, can tend to get blinkered …

Focusing on speed and size rather than standards and substance.

And before you know it, they’re churning out all manner of communication landfill, because they believe being something for everyone is better than being everything to someone.

Which is why I love this small hole-in-the-wall store I saw not so long ago.

I have no idea how many people need a quick buttonhole service …

I appreciate the sign is a ramshackle mess.

And yet it made me so happy because the shop looks like it’s been there for a long time which suggests the owner has built a position and value within the community they serve.

Where ‘quick’ is more a by-product of their experience rather than the objective of why they’re in business.

Maybe.

And while I could be completely wrong about them, the reason I love it is because it reminds me that we should celebrate business who wish to live up to a standard not down to a scale.

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The Difference Between Brand And Band Strategy …

I was recently interviewed by a music company about the work I do for artists.

They – quite rightly – wanted to know what I did and how it was different to what I normally did.

And I explained the difference was made clear pretty much in my very first meeting.

Because I was told this …

Now I can’t be sure they used those exact words, but that was the general premise.

And that was what was amazing.

Because when working with brands, they want you to use creativity to engage audiences, but with bands – at least the ones I’ve been exposed to – it’s the opposite.

I don’t mean they want to alienate people – though they understand the importance of sacrifice better than almost any brand marketer I’ve ever met – it’s just they are the creativity … they are the product … and so the last thing they want is some fucker placing a layer of ‘marketing’ on top of their artistic expression which can be twisted, diluted or fucked with so what they want to say and what it means to them, has no consideration whatsoever.

Now I admit I’m very fortunate the artists I’m working for are of a scale where they have the power to not just consider this issue but do something about it.

Many don’t.

However by the same token, when you’re of that scale, the potential for things to get messed up in some way is much greater.

Which is why they ensured I knew my role was not to market them, but to protect their truth.

Do and explore things that amplify who they are not just flog more product.

And because what they create is an expression who they are … they can express their truth without falling into endless streams of cliched brand consultant speak.

+ So no buzz words.
+ No ambiguous terms.
+ Just stories, experiences and considerations that have defined all they do.

And that’s why they don’t really care if you like their music. Sure, it helps, but they don’t want fawning fandom, they want people who understand what they value, believe and give a fuck about so everything associated with what they do expresses it.

Or said another way, they want people who can ‘speak their tongue’.

Now I am the first to admit there have been some mistakes.

Some things you go, “why did you do that?”

But in the main, I’ve not seen much of it and even when I have called stuff out, they have [generally] appreciated it, because – as I was also told on my first day – I’m being paid to give them truth not comfort.

I’ve always said people should not aspire to be a planner, but get away with the things a planner can get away with. And I’ve got away with a lot as a planner. Done all manner of weird and wonderful.

While I’d like to think that’s what helped me get this gig … the reality is I got it because of an introduction from someone I know.

And while in theory any strategist could do what I’m doing, how I do strategy and how I have been asked to view what it’s role is, has highlighted that’s not the case.

Not because of capability, but what the industry currently wants and expects.

And this is manifested in increasingly not being given the time, support or standards to do things right.

Where speed is more important than substance.

Process more valuable than output.

I wrote about this and more, here.

But it’s more than that, it’s also what clients think strategy is for …

Packaging rather than changing.

Wanting quick wins rather than long term value.

Targeting needs, not a point of view in the world.

Chasing convenience not authenticity.

If anything, doing this work has made me even more grateful to the bosses, agencies and clients I’ve worked with over my career.

Because when I look back, the truly great ones were basically like a band.

Born of belief. Defined by a point of view. Wanting to attract not chase anything popular.

And that’s a big part of why they have been able to remain at the forefront of their individual discipline, category and/or sub-culture.

Because they never saw strategy as a tool for marketing, but to amplify their truth.

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It’s Only Classic If It Evolves …

So the cosmetic empire, Revlon, has gone bankrupt.

It’s a brand I remember from my youth with their big ads featuring big stars selling big statements.

But like Woolworths of old [how’s that for a linkage] they thought that was enough.

They thought they were enough.

But tastes change.

Evolve.

Hell, in just the past few years we’ve seen all manner of movements in the cosmetics space … from the nude look to the pastel and playful, both leveraged by brands like Maybelline and Glossier.

And then there’s Fenty …

Who came in and offered a foundation that had varieties specifically for African American skin as well as white – which shouldn’t be a surprise until you realise that until then, all major cosmetic companies excluded African American skin and expected them to use a foundation designed for white customers.

Seriously, what the fuck.

Of course, the success of Fenty saw many of the big players try to follow suit … but when actively you’ve ignored millions for 60+ years, you’re not going to convince them you suddenly care.

Which comes back to Revlon.

Who forgot the way you build a brand is not by communicating yourself over and over again, but doing things that earn loyalty.

Or at least prove you are working for it.

So many companies forget that. Either spending millions on what they want to say or ‘innovating’ with things that are what they want people to care about, rather than the things people care about.

It’s amazing how many brands fall for this.

But then, ego has that effect on people.

Causing them to place boundaries and blinkers around the comments that scream what people want you to do better at. What they want you to change.

But instead, companies choose to maximise short-term opportunities, rather than build things for the future. I get it … it costs a lot and there’s the argument it risks a lot.

Except it doesn’t cost or risk anything near what happens if you don’t do it.

And playing catch up never works because when you finally follow suit, you find out the others have already moved on.

Even the companies that promise ‘disruption’ never really go all in.

Often just focusing on one element the establishment do wrong rather than reimagining how they could completely evolve an entire category.

Function over benefits.

Product over brand.

That said, there are some out there who do it right.

Not just in the ‘cool’ categories, but in things like finance, health and paint.

Yes, paint!!!

Doing things where it shows they are truly watching and listening to culture.

Not just in what they want, but what is affecting who they are.

Once upon a time this was the norm. Now it’s all about promoting the condiments rather than focusing on the steak.

And while that can work in the short-term … giving you a few PR headlines you can leverage in the press … the brands who count succeed because they perpetually evolve culture – or evolve with the leading edge of it – rather than just keep them where they already are.



Why People Who Believe In The Metaverse, Need To Be Dire Straits Fans …

After the amazing drama of yesterday, I need to calm things down.

Not for you, but for me … because my heart can’t take nerves like that.

And yet it’s going to have to do just that in a little over a week.

Bloody hell.

So to slow things down, let me take you back in time …

Back in 1985, the band Dire Straits launched a song called Money For Nothing.

It became famous for a whole host of reasons.

It was the first song of theirs that actually sounded slightly modern.

It had ‘modern’ day references in the lyrics.

It had Sting – from The Police – singing on it.

It had this video …

Did you watch it?

You didn’t did you?

You lazy bastards …

Well, to get back to the point of this post, here’s a screen grab from it …

Now while that image may not strike you as cutting edge, back in 1985, it was revolutionary.

Digital characters living in a digital world, where their universe was a blend of normality and possibility.

Hang on, does that sound like something else?

Something that a huge amount of the tech and marketing industry have been wetting their pants over?

Something that sounds suspiciously close to this …

Did you watch this?

You didn’t did you?

You über-lazy assholes …

Well, to get back to the point of this post, here’s a screen grab from it …

Yep.

Yep it does.

A music video from 1985 by the most snooze-rock band ever formed, not only communicated the metaverse, it did it in a style pretty close to what Facebook and every other brand have shown as ‘the standard’.

How terrifyingly embarrassing is that?

All these hip, technologists, futurists and strategists trying to look like they’re on the edge of culture creation and all the bollocks they’re banging on about was expressed by bloody Dire Straits 37 years earlier.

THIRTY SEVEN YEARS.

Hahahahahahahahaha.

I mean … when that Zuck video first broke, I wrote a post about how it was missing the point by showing things we can already do, but now – thanks to errrrrm, Dire Straits, I realise it was even worse than I imagined.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe technology and – the metaverse, even though what is being celebrated as it, isn’t what it is – will have the possibility to make a huge, positive difference to humanity. Eventually.

But making – and lauding – a film and idea that looks awfully similar to a bloody 1985 music video isn’t doing them any favours. If anything, it shows how much of this industry is filled with individuals who crave attention or adoration or just desperately seek relevance.

Not helped when you learn that, unsurprisingly, the main reason Zuck is so into the Metaverse is not for changing the world but upping his bank account.

Given how much Facebook tried to label Apple as ‘anti-business’ for the amount they charged creators and partners – which is a lot less than 47.5% – it makes the whole Meta situation even more laughable.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the new is often misunderstood.

And new technology should not be judged by the standards of established technology.

But when the ‘icons and industry leaders’ stand on soapboxes and stages to promote the future in a similar way that Dire Straits brought to the World almost 4 decades ago … it’s only fair to question if these people care about the future or simply their own career image.

Even though, sadly, we keep seeing hyping can get better career growth, than grafting.

If the Metaverse could fix that, then maybe we’d all sign up.

Then again …