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.



Accidental Legacies …

A few weeks ago, I read this:

It was said by Susan Ann Sulley, one of the singers in The Human League about their iconic song, ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

I have to admit, it has absolutely captivated me.

From the acknowledgement there was a real chance they could have put sleigh bells on the song if they thought it would chart over Christmas – which would have immediately made the song a novelty record rather than one of pop’s true classics – to her statement of simply being ‘an ordinary girl, doing her best’.

The level of honesty featured in those few lines is both breath-taking and disarming … especially given it comes from someone from within an industry that loves to big-talk itself, even when they haven’t had a Worldwide hit like Susan has.

To be honest, this openness is reflected in the entire article – which reinforces some ‘no nonsense’ Northern stereotype that adland likes to communicate over and over again.

But there’s something else I like about it …

Because while rigour and planning definitely increase the odds of success, the uncomfortable truth for all those companies, consultancies and self-anointed marketing masters who claim to have proprietary processes that ‘guarantee success’ is the legends, legacies and icons of culture owe far more of their good fortune to the beauty of happy accidents than an obsessive focus on the perfection of a process.

Said another way, they leave space for chaos rather than try to remove it.

I get it may sound counter-productive, but as Martin and I said way back in 2019 … chaos creates what order can’t.



Who Is Fooling Who?

Being old, I’ve done more than my fair share of judging awards.

I enjoy it.

Yes it’s a major investment in terms of time, but when you come across an absolutely devastatingly good submission, it’s worth every second.

However it is also fair to say that over the years, there have been some real painful experiences. Either in terms of average papers being seemingly entered into every category in a bid to increase the odds of winning something or papers that have such a strong scent of scam, even Ray Charles can see how suspect they are. [Sorry Mr Charles]

I always laugh when I come across those. Specially at the agencies submitting them … because while they obviously think they are geniuses – or the judges are idiots – the reality is they’re wrong on both counts.

But here’s the thing, people can slag off awards all they like, but they matter.

For Colenso for example, they’re important.

We’re a small agency on the other side of the planet and being able to show our creativity and effectiveness is vitally important to keep demonstrating our validity to attract global clients.

But – and it’s a big but – it only works if its real.

And that only works if all the winners around it are also real.

Now I appreciate that different clients have different needs and budgets.

I appreciate different markets have different cultural traits, behaviours and media.

I absolutely appreciate some entries use a language that is not their native tongue.

And I think that is all brilliant – though I also think none-native English speakers are at an immediate disadvantage and the award organisers should be looking at ways to change that.

However, if you need to write 8456738585463 words to explain your problem or your idea or your insight or your results … you’re not helping yourself.

Nor are you if you are using the pandemic as your strategies main adversary – often followed up with the words, ‘how do we grow in an era of the new normal?’.

Of course I am not doubting the pandemic has caused havoc among categories of business all over the world. It’s definitely happened to me too. But if we don’t explain what the challenge is – how it has affected behaviour or values or distribution or competition or anything other than it ‘made things more difficult’ … then it’s as lazy as the time I judged the Effies in the US when Trump came to power and the opening line of 85% of all submissions was:

How do we bring a nation divided together?

[My fave was when a whisky brand used that as their creative challenge. HAHAHAHA]

I take the judging seriously because I want the awards to be valued.

I want the awards to be valued because I want the industry to be valued.

And I want the industry to be valued because I want clients to win, creativity to win and the people coming up behind me to have a chance of taking us all to better and more interesting places that we’re at right now.

And I believe they can if we don’t fuck up the chance for them.

I get awards are nice to have.

I get they can drive business and payrises.

But if we keep allowing bullshit a chance to shine – and let’s face it, we have time and time again – then all we’re doing is fucking ourselves over.

I’m fine with failure.

In fact I’m very, very comfortable with it.

Especially when it’s because someone has tried to do something audacious for all the right reasons … because even if it doesn’t come off, it’s opened the door to other things we may never have imagined. There’s even real commercial value to that.

But when agencies create, hijack or exploit problems to just serve their own means – then fuck them. Maybe – just maybe – if they did it at a scale that could make a real difference, you’d be prone to encourage it. But when it’s done to achieve just what is needed to let the creators win an award … then frankly, the organisers and judges have a moral obligation to call it out.

Asia gets a bad wrap for this. And over the years that has been deserved, but I can tell you no market is immune. Hell, I’ve even seen some in NZ recently – or one in particular – and what made it worse was it wasn’t even any good.

But as rubbish as that example was, at least it didn’t stoop to the levels we have seen previously.

Let’s remember it’s only 4 years ago an agency WON MAJOR AWARDS for an app they said could help save refugees on boats by tracking them in the sea … only for them to then claim – when later called out – that the app was in beta testing hence the information being sent back to users was not real.

Amazingly ignoring the fact they didn’t say that in any of their entry submissions and if they had, they wouldn’t have been eligible for the awards they entered in the first place.

Creativity can do amazing things.

Advertising can do amazing things.

But we fuck it up when we put the superficial on the podium.

Of course, this is not just an agency problem. Clients are also part of this. Because if they let agencies do what they are great at rather than treating them as a subservient production partner … maybe we’d not just see more interesting work, but even more interesting and valuable brands.



Campbell’s Law …

So recently I was reading a case study paper for a creative campaign.

I have to say, the way it was written was very good.

It sounded like they had genuinely created an idea that was driving fundamental change.

The paper was full of superlatives.

Full of audacious claims.

It was also full of shit.

Stripping things back, all they had actually done was launch a PR campaign with a big and exciting sounding name.

I’m not saying it wasn’t effective.

Nor am I saying it was bad.

But compared to what was claimed, it was pants.

But what made it really stand out was the following paper I read.

It was equally well written, but this was without hyperbole.

Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t playing down what they had created they just weren’t trying to insinuate it was the second coming of Christ.

Which was interesting, because it was genuinely using creativity in a powerful, effective and interesting way.

All wrapped up with a campaign name that was almost deceptively simple.

Having been on a lot of creative and effectiveness judging panels over the years, I’ve seen this time and time again which has led me to forming what I will call – for ego reasons and the novelty of it not being associated with being in trouble with the authorities – Campbell’s Law.

Campbell’s Law states:
The more grandiose or superlative-ridden a creative campaign name or description is given, the more boring and safe the reality of the execution.

I assure you, should you be invited to any future creative judging panel, it will save you sooooooo much time going through all the submissions.

You’re welcome.



Sacrifice Is Love …

Before I start, I need to warn you this post is long.

It may be the longest post I’ve ever written, so there’s a TL;DR at the very end.

Anyway, this post is about my Mum. And my wife.

Two amazing people who provided the foundation that allowed their husbands to go all over the place.

I’ve written about how my Dad had a bunch of radically different careers.

Not degrees of change, whole fucking protractors worth.

And while my career has been more ‘stable’, in so much it has pretty much revolved around the same industry … the fact I’ve been able to live and work literally all around the World is as much down to my wife as it is to any opportunity I have been given.

Put simply, none of what Dad or I have done could happen if Mum or Jill hadn’t enabled it.

And enabled is the perfect word … because this is more than just ‘supporting’ someone’s quest for adventure.

They actively enabled it to happen by choosing a path that offered them – and the family – a greater level of stability and consistency so their partner could follow the path of curiosity.

What an amazing act of generosity and love.

It is something I have been aware of for a long time …

And while Jill has loved the adventure we have been on, it has come at some personal sacrifice.

She is far from her family.

She built her career as much around the environment she was in as the interest she had in a particular area.

And while she did brilliantly with all of it – especially with her cake design business in Shanghai – I am perfectly aware she could well have gone on to even more amazing things if we had just stayed in one place rather than moved all around the World.

She has never complained about this.

She has always embraced the journey and the countries we have lived in.

But the reality is I took her away from her family supposedly for a year, which turned into 16.

Or said another way, she has shown me a level of love and support that I find hard to fathom.

So now it’s time to pay things back a little. Kinda.

You see when I got made redundant, I was inundated with generosity.

Some of it was words of support.

Some of it was offers of projects.

Some of it was even offers of jobs – albeit all overseas in America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Frankly, it was overwhelming and wonderful.

And while all the gigs were amazing opportunities, our first reaction was to say no.

Part of it was because of the wonderful family home we had just bought. Part of it was our desire to set down real roots for the first time. And part of it was because two famous rock bands, a wonderfully eccentric Chinese billionaire, an amazing German home appliances brand and the World’s most notorious/desired video game company stupidly asked me to work with them on long-term creative projects, meaning I could continue to earn a good living in the country my family now considered home.

Hell, in the last 9 weeks I’ve done presentations to the boards of TikTok, Rockstar, a fashion superstar and a Silicon Valley VC while also helping some mates on 2 pitches … one in Australia, one in Italy … and we won both of them!!!

As weird as it is to say, unemployment – for me – has been amazing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know what I’m saying is the definition of privileged-as-fuck.

I absolutely acknowledge I’m in an extremely fortunate position and, if I’m being honest, I’ve found that hard to reconcile with, given how many people – many my mates – are having a hard time right now. To help deal with that, I’ve been finding ways to bring some of them into the projects I’m on because not only do I want to share the good fortune I’m experiencing, they all make me – and the work I do – so much better.

But it also revealed something I had forgotten.

As much as I love the work I’m doing and who I’m doing it for, I love it more when I’m doing it with a team. If I’m being honest, I suck when I’m on my own and given the personal projects I’m doing will never demand 8 hours a day – let alone 5 days a week – there’s a lot of ‘on my own’ time, I have to deal with.

I know, that sounds like the dream doesn’t it?

And it is. But while I absolutely love spending so much time with my family and adore working with Rock Stars and eccentric billionaires, I also love – and probably need – to collaborate with other creative people on other creative things … which led us back to the ‘real’ jobs people were talking to me about.

Frankly they all offered something unique, interesting and valuable to my career, my family and our overall future.

And, importantly, they all involved working with interesting, passionate, creative people.

Plus – in theory – I could still deal with the crazy ideas and needs of rock stars and billionaires.

So Jill and I discussed them again.

Some were pretty easy to decide …

Not because the job or the companies were bad – they were all wonderful – but they were based in the US and frankly, given all that’s going on there right now, that’s not somewhere we wanted to go back to at this time.

But there was one opportunity that caught Jill’s attention.

Not just because of the job, but because of the place.

Jill knew I was already excited by it because the company involved was one I had revered and raved about for years. In fact I had almost joined them a few years ago, but Mum had just died so I was in the wrong frame of mind to make any big changes in my life.

So why did this place catch Jill’s attention?

Because, in simple terms, it was nearer to her Mum, who lives in Australia.

You see while she talks to her daily, it’s obviously not nearly the same as seeing her a bunch of times a year.

I totally understood this, not just because I had been in a similar situation with my parents … but because now we were so close to my beloved best mate Paul and his epic wife Shelly, I felt an even deeper connection with them, simply because we got to hang out a shit load more than we had for the past 25 years.

And so this got us talking.

As I said, I absolutely adored the company. And I loved Jill could be closer to her Mum. And we loved the idea Otis could spend his primary school years in an environment that is safe, natural, liberal, creative and culturally diverse. Plus I loved I could do something that would – in a super small way – repay Jill for all the love, consideration and sacrifice she had given to allow me to keep us moving forward … not to mention I loved that I would have a whole new list of people I could make Facebook friends.

[OK, not that last bit, more like a whole new list of people I could be an instagram terrorist to]

Are you wondering what the fuck I’m going on about?

Well this is my very convoluted way of saying Jill, Otis, Rosie and I are all moving to Auckland in New Zealand, and I‘m pathetically happy to announce I’ll be the head of strategy for one of the most wonderful agencies in the World – in fact, one of the Cannes agencies of the decade – the utterly brilliant, beautifully ridiculous, infectiously creative … Colenso.

I have loved this agency for so long.

They’ve consistently made work that I’ve not just been insanely jealous of, but I’ve not seen anywhere else.

From creating a radio station for dogs … to stopping speeding by letting kids design the speed dial in the family car … to making drinking a beer the most romantic thing you can do on Valentine’s Day – or an alternative fuel for cars – they’re imaginative, audacious and wonderfully bonkers.

While saying ‘no’ to them 5 years ago was the right decision because of my state of mind after Mum died, I always felt I’d missed out on an opportunity that could be very special for me, so to be offered a second chance is … well, put it this way, it’s something I’ll always be eternally grateful to their idiocy for making happen.

Frankly, when I got made redundant, I never imagined something like this could happen … but, as I said at the time, the last time this happened to me, it led to one of the most creatively rewarding times of my life and in my post, I wondered out loud if lightning could strike twice.

Amazingly, it seems it can … but that’s the best thing about life, because if you’re open to everything, anything can happen.

That said, being in England has been amazing, far more than I imagined or hoped.

I don’t mind admitting when we came back I had a sense of trepidation.

Part of it was because I never thought we’d live in England again, part of it was because I didn’t want it to signify ‘the end’ of the adventure [and yet so many people thought it did] and part of it was that I felt guilt coming home after Mum and Dad died … because if I was going to do that, what didn’t I do it when they were both still here.

But as we spent more and more time in England, those concerns were replaced by feelings of belonging and connection that I thought I’d lost the ability to feel or experience, regardless where we lived … so while the UK may a complete basket-case of a nation, it’s my basket-case and I can take that newly formed sense of connection with me wherever we go.

But what about our new home?

The one I’d written so much about when we got it?

The one we moved into SEVENTEEN DAYS AGO!

Well, the fact of the matter is we’re in it and we love it and we don’t want to lose it … so while we will taking a detour via a wonderful adventure in New Zealand, I can categorically say we will be back living in it at some point. Don’t know when – we never make plans about timing – but we just know we will one day.

You see the reality is the house was always more to us than just an asset.

We wanted somewhere where we could settle … a place where our roots could grow and become established and entwined. It’s why I took the decision to sell Mum’s home, not just because it helped us be able to afford it, but because it was the sort of place Mum would want for us.

A family home rather than a house my family lived in.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy that until we go.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy that when we eventually come back.

But when do we go?

Well, that’s an interesting question with COVID … but hopefully in the first part of 2021.

If you asked me if we would ever live in New Zealand in the first half of 2020, I would have laughed and said no … and then added., “not unless Colenso offer me a job again”. But here we are, about to do just that … and I have to admit we are all hugely excited about it.

Not just for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but because living in another country and culture is an amazing privilege and we’re excited that the journey we’ve been on for the last 25+ years, still has a few more chapters to be written.

[That said, our cat is not happy as this this will be her SIXTH country in 13 years]

I’m so grateful to Colenso for giving me – and my family – this opportunity.

I’m so grateful to Jill for thinking of me even when this is supposed to be more about her.

I’m so grateful to R/GA for giving me – and my family – this experience in England and, by making me redundant, opening the door to exciting and rewarding things I never imagined could happen.

I’m also so grateful to all the people who have been so kind with their generosity and support while I’ve been in England, especially when I was made redundant. There’s loads and I’ll write a post about them when we leave but quickly, a massive thanks to …

My old planning gang at R/GA. Nils, Lucy and the incredible team at Uncommon. Matt Tanter. The Brixton Finishing School. John Dodds. Joel Keene. Emma Clark. Jonathan Nwauzu. Phil Jacobson. Judd Caraway. Caroline Seifert. The delightful nightmares Mike and Sam. Claire Pickens. David Tiltman. Munraj Singh. Kay and the team at SMILE-ing Boys Project. Michael Roberts. Karrelle. Louise Jack. Nick Ellis. Paul C. Nick Hirst. Richard Greene. Jed Hallam. Ms Bloodworth [although technically she is now in PDX]. Trudie McNicholl. Omar at The London Business School. Larissa. Sam Clohesy. Hanan. Giles Edwards. Asher. Tom Roach. Tarik at On Road. Sara Tate. Stefano. My beloved Mr Weigel. Ally McKenzi. Vince Aidoo. Neil Perkin. Graeme Douglas. Nick Owen. Nic Owen. Sam Brookes. Dave Alberts. Ayo and Group Think.

There’s tons I’ve missed but as I said, I’ll write a proper thing about them closer to the time we go [even though I appreciate this is turning into a Ms World acceptance speech] but I would be wrong if I didn’t give a mention to my oldest, dearest friend – Paul – and his wonderful wife Shelly, who made – and are making – this chapter better than I dared imagine.

I can’t really put into words how wonderful it has been being close to them again. While it had been 25 years since we were in the same country, it never felt like it – though being so close definitely made things even better. [The photo above, taken in our new garden when they came to visit, is one I’ll always treasure]

The one really sad thing about going is not seeing them as much as we have been able to over the past 2 years … but I keep reminding myself we’ll be back and I know when that happens, it will be exactly like it has been – wonderful and silly – because that’s exactly what happened when we came back after a quarter of a bloody century.

I know this has been a super long post. Like, Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar-speech long.

And I know most of you won’t have read most of it.

Or you just skipped to the TL;DR at the bottom.

But that’s OK, because it’s not for you, it’s for me.

And for Otis. For when he’s older. So he can properly understand the reasons behind his childhood, family adventures.

However even I’m getting over it so with that I’ll leave you with this …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden asked me if I would ever live in Portland.

My response resulted in him saying, “I should fire your ass” and repeating it every single time he saw me from there on in.

I never had anything against Portland.

It’s an absolutely lovely place, but for me – especially as I was living in Shanghai at the time – I felt it was too small, too quiet, too natural and just too nice.

Well, we’re going to find out who was right.

I’m pretty sure we’ll find Dan was. As usual.

TL;DR

Bought a house in England but moving to NZ.
Off to play at the wonderful Colenso and let my wife be closer to her Mum.