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


McKinsey. Psychopaths For Sale.

I’ve written about McKinsey in the past.

From the talk I did at their conference where I took the piss out of the, through to the infamous tweet I sent about that incident through to my begrudged respect that they are able to charge so much money for things they will never get their hands dirty in executing.

And while I am fully aware that they have some incredibly smart people in their organisation, the organisations ruthlessness towards capitalism highlights they have almost zero moral compass.

Oh they talk about their values.

They go on about their commitment to purpose and integrity.

But the more and more I did into the organisation, the more I find codes of conduct that should be regarded as criminal rather than respectful.

I’m currently reading Empire Of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe about the opioid crisis – specifically OxyContin – created, aggressively marketed and exploited by the Sackler family.

It makes for horrific reading.

The way the family lied, denied and did all they could to separate themselves from the horror they created – blaming the victims and inventing terminology ‘pseudo-addiction’ to separate themselves from blame.

And what’s this got to do with McKinsey?

This.

McKinsey … the value driven, purpose driven company of integrity.

More like, the money driven, moral free, promoters of human misery.

I appreciate many people value what they do.

I appreciate they have done good things for companies in the past.

But if an organisation is OK with putting forward a proposal that basically ‘buys’ companies to continue selling a product that is killing hundreds of thousands of people [current estimate is 500,000 in the US alone with many more addicted] then at what point do companies start to realise that eventually customers will start questioning them.

We all make mistakes.

We all have put forward ideas that stretch boundaries.

But I don’t know anyone who has suggested – let alone put in a proposal – that allows people to die so a client can make more money.

And they say adland has problems …



Simple. Wins.

For all the money companies and agencies spend on trying to know their audiences better.

For all the systems and processes companies and agencies put in place to be reduce the friction of purchase for customers.

For all the data companies and agencies invest in and rely on to identify market opportunities they can leverage.

For all the investment in experience to drive brand consistency.

It’s amazing how simple it is for a brand to differentiate themselves from the competition … resonate with a specific audience … encourage emotional loyalty and build commercial value by simply having a point of view that is expressed by doing what people find important rather than what you want them to find important.

This brilliance is from Tesco in association with St John’s Ambulance.

Clothes that your baby will look good in and could – if the worst happens – help save their life.

No eco-systems.
No data analysis.
No additional experience layers.
No focus group idea blandification.

Just an idea where the value is undeniable to all.

A real idea. Not an ad idea.

A real idea where communication amplifies the solution rather than is the solution.

Done for real, not for ad award submissions.

Some agencies [and brands, like Timpson’s] do this sort of thing properly – for example the brilliant Tontine pillow [by the brilliant Mark Sareff] and H&M’s One Second Suit, not to mention the fact Colenso has consistently been doing this sort of stuff for decades – however if clients let their agencies partners solve problems without their dictatorial interference or obstacles … and if agencies listened to what their clients need rather than what they want them to want … we’d not only have more interesting, valuable, creative and effective agencies and brands, we’d be making more of a difference than all the pointless purpose statements put together.

I can but hope.

We all should, because it’s down to us.



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.



Entitled To Nothing …

Once upon a time, I was invited to a meeting that frankly, I should not have been invited to.

Admittedly I was told I was only there so I could witness the behaviour of the most senior people in the company and I absolutely was not allowed to say a word … but it still was an absolutely ridiculous decision by the company.

Anyway, so I go in and I sit quietly at the back.

After about an hour, a new member of the board started speaking.

To be honest, I was quite taken aback at the tone they were using.

It wasn’t confident, it was down right arrogant … a unique ability to sound condescending, belittling and entitled all at the same time.

It was at this point, the CEO and founder of the company stepped in with words that shut things down in an absolute second.

He looked right at the individual flexing their metaphorical muscles and said:

“You haven’t earned the right to be arrogant and when you have, you will know that’s not the way to behave”.

It was brilliant and embarrassing in equal measure and I had to do all I could not to break out into wild applause.

I say this because a couple of weeks ago, I kind of had another experience like this.

A complete stranger on LinkedIn reached out to me to ask if I worked with Metallica.

When I told them I did, they said – and I quote – “How do I talk to them about my new business idea?

To which I replied:

“You have to find an old lamp & rub it. If a genie comes out, ask them to sort it for you.”

Unsurprisingly they called me a prick, but apart from the fact I am not the bands gatekeeper – I’m much more the bands cat litter tray – why does he think I would respond positively to his unsolicited email?

I’m not asking for subserviency.

I’m not asking for fawning.

But a little politeness would be nice.

Not that it would have changed anything, but I may have actually had a desire to hear what they were thinking and then see if there is someone else they should be talking to.

But no … they went right in as if I owed them something because they were brilliant and that entitled them to my desire to help unconditionally.

If that attitude wouldn’t work on Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank … it sure as shit won’t work via an unsolicited email on LinkedIn to a petty bastard from Nottingham.

I know if you don’t ask, you don’t get, but what some people don’t seem to grasp is asking is very different to demanding.

Seriously, if this is what ‘professionalism’ is on LinkedIn, then I may be the most professional person on that platform and as you all know, that is possibly the scariest proposition of all time.

Talking of professionalism, I’m taking tomorrow and Monday off … and while you may think that is the antithesis of professionalism, I can assure you everyone else’s productivity will be up.



Wanted. Liars With Straight Faces …

The industry likes to talk a lot about purpose.
The supposedly unwavering commitment to its higher purpose, even if it only turns up in marketing.

It likes to talk about agility.

The ability for a company to change focus to maximise opportunities even, if often it’s done to hide a lack of strategy.

And let’s not forget pivoting.

The ability to shift from one area of expertise to another, even if the reality is its because you need to survive rather than you are forward thinking.

Now of course, there are some companies who have purpose, agility and an ability to pivot without using it as an excuse to hide their shortcomings. Companies who have embodied and expressed all these traits, often before it became another marketing or business buzzword.

Or – in the case of pivoting – there are some companies who openly admit why they did it. That if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist any longer. Netflix for example.

But there’s some organisations who see the writing on the wall, but ‘pivot’ to such an extent that they literally show themselves for the lying, cheating, manipulative organization they have always been.

The best example of this I’ve possibly ever seen is cancer champion – Philip Morris.

You see the tobacco company has decided that their core cash cow doesn’t have the same profitable future as it once did so have decided – to loud fanfare – to pivot.

“What to?” I hear you ask?

Hold on to your hats, because it’s a Health and Wellness company.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

No, that’s not a joke … well, it is, but they don’t mean it to be.

Yep, Phillip Morris – owners of brands including Marlboro are supposedly pivoting to a health and wellness company.

It’s the equivalent of the Trump Organisation becoming an international aid charity.

Or kids TV show, Playschool pivoting to a rival of Pornhub.

How can they say this with a straight face?

They’re even lobbying for a ban on cigarettes within 10 years.

This is worse than poacher turned keeper.

This is an attempt for death to turn doctor … conveniently ignoring all the shameful acts they undertook – and still undertake – to keep their tobacco business killing its customers.

Look I get they have to continue making money.

I get a lot of ‘health and wellness’ companies are as questionable as a cigarette company.

But come on …

Apart from their bullshit being utterly transparent and sickening … what about all the scientists and doctors they paid off, bullied and sued to keep their kill sticks in market.

Do they think they’re just going to nod and think, “hey, we won?”

Will there be a follow up to the Michael Mann movie, The Insider … where Russell Crowe spends 2 hours saying, “I was wrong, Philip Morris are lovely guys really and I forgive them for trying to crush and threaten my life.”

And that’s before we get to the scientists and doctors who work for Philip Morris who must be wondering how a company committed to tobacco can just expect them to change their focus to fixing the illnesses they helped cause in the first place.

But do you know what the sickest part of it all is?

The markets won’t care.

They won’t cast doubt or suspicion.

As long as they make money they will support them.

They’ll call them a poster child for ‘purpose’ and ‘wellbeing’.

It will see the CEO, Jacek Olczak, celebrated and revered by the business press.

It will see him earn millions from bonuses, consultancy and speaker engagements.

We’ll watch holding company CEO’s jostle for position.

We’ll see even more agencies pitching for their business.

We’ll read fawning editorial about their shift in industry magazines.

We’ll hear strategists talk about them as proof of the power of pivoting.

And it will make me hate even more people for the willingness to support hypocrisy for profit.

Philip Morris. You can say you are a health and wellness company, but we all know the only health and wellness you have ever cared about is your own bank balance.