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


Why Being Dangerous Is A Business Strategy …

There’s a brilliant documentary on the band The KLF.

For those who don’t know who they are/were, they’re a band formed in the late 80’s who wrote some of the early 90’s biggest selling singles.

Except, if truth be told, The KLF were more artists than musicians.

I don’t mean that in terms of them having many different business interests …I mean it in terms of them expressing their creativity in ever-more dramatic, provocative and intriguing ways.

From burning a million pounds to sampling without permission to firing a machine gun full of blanks at an audience live on television to delisting every song they ever made … and a whole lot in-between.

It’s a truly fascinating documentary, where you realise that everything they did – while not planned – was definitely deliberate.

But there’s one quote about them that stood out for me.

Not just because it captured who they were, but because it revealed what is missing for me in so much of the work the industry is producing.

I love that.

I love it so much.

But sadly, many in my discipline of strategy – and all the self-proclaimed marketing gurus – have killed that in the quest to flatter their own ego.

And it gets worse.

No, I’m not talking about the clients who value function, logic and attribution over shaping or changing cultures opinion, attitudes and feelings – though I could definitely talk about that – but the agency creative departments filled with people who want to make ads rather than use creativity to push boundaries.

The KLF may have been seen by the industry as anarchists … but for a band who had a few – albeit massive – hits in the 90’s, their work still is remembered, stands up to scrutiny and can be directly associated with cultural change which is more than pretty much anything our industry, or most industries for that matter, produces these days.

Of course, given the untold billions brands spend to have culture know them, value them and want them … this is pretty ironic.

Oh I get these brands still make a ton of money.

More than even The KLF could burn.

But this isn’t about distribution, habit or media spent, but influence, change and ambition.

This doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there to make something like this happen.

It is.

But it means nothing if the role it’s used for is to give clients what they want rather than what culture can never forget.




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.



A Reminder Of The Power Of Creativity …

Creativity is getting a bit of a kicking these days.

Oh, people talk about it.

They wax on about how valuable it is.

But then they dictate a ‘formula’ … something they say ‘optimises’ effectiveness and efficiency … conveniently ignoring they are actually promoting the total opposite of what creativity is and how it works.

Complicity.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided the value of creativity is not related to output at all … just input.

Now there is truth to that, creativity definitely starts with the mind, however that never includes an endless list of superfluous and superficial mandatories followed by dictatorial demands regarding terminology, talent and ‘category codes’.

You don’t liberate the power of creativity by weighing it down with factors that – at best – can come much later in the process.

And yet it is happening more and more.

Where success is people knowing your name and your corporate colours.

It doesn’t matter if they like you or feel something about you, it’s all function attribution.

And that blows my mind because creativity is capable of incredible things.

Making people care.
Creating value and intrigue.
Driving change and differentiation.
Literally open up possibilities that make people want you rather than you having to chase them down or brainwash them into submission with millions of dollars of spend.

That all these possible outputs are being dismissed in favour of following a pre-determined process and output blows my mind.

Of course one of the big reasons for this is control.

Creativity asks people to let go of comfort zones.

Asks them to be open to new ways to solve old problems.

Demands them to trust someone who isn’t at all like them.

I get it, that’s scary and hard … and there’s definitely a lot of people and organisations who have been burnt by other people and organisations who claimed to offer ‘creativity’ but weren’t really that creative.

[Though it you’re going to value creativity by price point or complicity rather than the impact it has on your business … what do you expect?]

However while everyone has some form of creativity, there are some who know how to harness its power in ways that can change how millions think or feel or want to live.

Sure that may include your brand becoming synonymous with a colour.

Or a set of words.

But it will be more than that, because they will find a way where people value you for what you have added to their world.

Not simply functionally … but how they see and feel what’s around and possible.

And while there is always a risk it might not end up quite as successful as you hope, it is still better to end up with something that means everything to someone rather than nothing to everyone.

That said, when you see the possibilities of creativity – like this magical mural by Brazilian artist Fabio Gomes – then you may accept people who see the World differently to you can create ideas that are far bigger and more powerful than your World could ever imagine.



The Power Of Pettiness …

Of all the types of revenge you can get, petty revenge is one of my favourites.

The beauty of it is that it’s petty. Meaning it’s for something the aggressor doesn’t even realise they have done. At least not until they experience the act of revenge.

The other wonderful thing is that the pettiness often extends to the act of revenge.

In most cases it’s about forcing some sort of ‘inconvenience’ upon the victim … even if organising it took longer than the actual inconvenience lasted.

It’s why the question asked of many revenge makers is, “was it worth all that time just to do that?”

And almost universally, the answer is “yes … it most definitely was”.

Over the years I’ve embarked on a reign of petty revenge terror. Seeking to even the score against people who have either inadvertently- or consciously – tried to fuck me or a mate over.

This has resulted in all manner of acts.

From stealing a single wheel from their desk chair so it was annoyingly lopsided … to having stickers printed so I could put the word “last” over all their out-of-date ‘agency of the year’ posters … to placing a ‘honk if you hate the police’ bumper sticker to the back of their car to having badges made that said “I’m a sexist twat” that we sent to every male boss who had harassed my female friends to – in the very old days – changing the keys around on their laptops in the knowledge they couldn’t touch type so every time they wrote words like ‘they’, it would type a very different word.

I would like to point out 3 things:

1. They all deserved it.
2. This was all a very, very long time ago.
3. I’m much more sensible these days.

Well, I say that, but when we lived in London, a neighbour denied they had taken delivery of my Amazon order – despite me being sent photographic evidence of them accepting it – so I spent 2 days signing them up to every catalogue I could find and I hope they’re still getting them. I added a nice touch by addressing it to, ‘Ima Lyer-Antheef’.

But compared to my friends, I’m still an amateur. The stuff they’ve done is incredible in it’s pettiness and time consumption.

There’s one involving a famous cereal manufacturer – that I can only say when on my death bed – that still raises a smile even though it occurred 16 years ago.

But all that pales into insignificance compared to this …

They say heroes wear capes.

Well sometimes they wear their pettiness on their sleeve.

All bow down to a true master at work. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo.



The Power Of Presence …

So recently a friend of mine sent me this video of Prince performing at the Brit awards in 2006.

I don’t just love it because I miss his talent.

Nor do I just love it because it reminds me of what a phenomenal musician he was – with his guitar playing in particular being of Rock God standard.

And I don’t just love it for the beautiful moment he and Darling Nisi sing the chorus of Purple Rain – even though her smile shows how joyful she feels at the moment.

No, the main reason I love it is because of his stage presence. The sheer commitment to performance. The spectacle that is impossible to ignore.

This is more than just being a famous musician performing in front of others – I’ve seen many do that and bore everyone to tears – no, this is about his magnetism.

All eyes are on him. Despite a stage of dazzling talent and dance, you never move your gaze off him. You end up feeling all your emotions have been given a thorough workout despite him being on stage just 12 minutes. I haven’t seen anything like that since Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid … where in just 20 minutes, they secured their place as music icons.

There are actually less people who have this talent than you think, but one who had it in ‘the real world’ for me was a guy called Chris Jaques.

Years ago I wrote how I had to hold my hands together under the table at our first pitch presentation together because he was so amazing, I just wanted to clap.

I also wrote how anyone who ever worked with Chris who saw the carousel scene in the TV show, Mad Men, thought it could have been him.

He was that good.

But it wasn’t just because he was exceptionally smart.
Nor because he was also exceptionally talented.
But because he had an energy around him that you could not ignore.

He had the incredible ability to make you think he was only talking to you, even in a crowded room. He was clear, open and pragmatic with his opinions. He would go out of his way to ensure everyone felt included and involved. But there was never any doubt he was the leader. You wanted to work for him. Be better for him. When he walked in a room you felt his presence before he said a word. Not because of his power or wealth or standing … but because you felt it was going to be a valuable moment.

But what was even more special about Chris is that he never let this adulation go to his head. OK, not much anyway … certainly less than the people who think they have this impact … which meant he was always approachable but always valuable.

While there are some amazing people out in adland, there’s less Chris’ these days. Whether that’s because they have chosen different industries or this industry hounds people like Chris out is up for debate … but I do feel it’s a great loss.

Many like to refer to them as dinosaurs … people of another time who are no longer relevant. But people who say that have never worked with people like that. They probably wouldn’t want to as they would be challenged and questioned.

But what they don’t understand is their comments wouldn’t be about them.

They would just be talking about the work.

Wanting to help them be better by pushing their own boundaries.

And that’s why everyone should listen to this interview by the irrepressible Tony Davidson of Wieden London.

Tony – along with Kim – basically made that office and his interview is special.

He reminds me a lot of Chris.

Sure, their methods and approaches were very different, but the impact he had on me was very similar.

But after 20 years, Tony is leaving Wieden. While I am in no doubt that he will go on to do other amazing things, the reality is another person who made this industry interesting is going.

And while there are still some out there – Nils Leonard at Uncommon, Angela Watson at Colenso, Jorge Calleja at CPB, Ellie Norman at F1, Susan Hoffman at Wieden and Ryan Fisher at Wieden London to name a few – the industry still seemingly likes to give more face-time to the faceless and beige than the people who make things wonderful and weird.

Maybe that’s the industries insecurity showing [again] but as much as we are talking about mental health and work/life balance in a bid to lure people back to us [which is important and well over due]… maybe another way would be putting the weird, interesting and intriguing in the spotlight again.

Because you don’t attract the creative with even more logic, you attract them with people who have made ridiculous powerful and effective.