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


Happy Birthday Sunshine …
December 9, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: America, Birthday, China, Dad, Daddyhood, England, Family, Jill, Love, New Zealand, Otis

So on Sunday, it’s Otis’ 8th birthday.

Eight.

He is basically growing up way too fast.

So fast, I wish the police would come and tell him to slow down.

It seems like only yesterday I took this ridiculous photo of him, mere minutes old …

… but here he is, 8 years later, full of life, love and joy.

He is such a wonderful boy.

Of course I’d say that, but he is.

Kind, considerate and always trying his hardest.

If anything, I wish he pushed the rules a bit more – but even his teachers say what a good kid he is. And given the challenge of recently being diagnosed with disgraphia, that’s even more wonderful to hear.

That he had started to suffer anxiety because he thought he wasn’t good enough because he couldn’t keep up with the other kids in class with writing – breaks my heart. But fortunately his teachers noticed quickly, designed a different way for him to express and contribute in class and now he’s growing back in confidence which makes me so proud.

Both of him and his teachers.

But then, where he’s concerned, he has consistently revealed his compassion and resiliance.

From moving country so many times to choosing to cutting his long hair to help ‘kids with cancer’ to being a tough little cookie when he got rushed into hospital for an emergency operation within a week of turning 7 … he’s a phenomenal human.

And now he turns 8.

EIGHT.

While there’s many thing I could wish for him this year, I think the main thing would be to continue with what he’s got.

Stability.

A safe, calm home environment.

His network of buddies and mates.

Outlets for his energy, interests and cheekiness.

A range of people who support his individual needs personally, accadmically and emotionally.

Of course he may want different things … of which I assume Superman and Transformers would feature heavily … but having a place he can continue to be connected to and enjoy is one he may – in time – also appreciate.

We’ve always known this.

And wanted this for him.

So to be able to give him it – and see how much he has blossomed because of it – is a dream.

And while we know we won’t be here forever, like all parents, what we do want is for him to be happy and fulfilled.

To not fear the unknown.
To embrace his interests and curiosity.
To feel safe in being able to express who he is and how he feels.

Maybe that’s a pipe-dream … after all, the world can be a challenging and tough place.

But NZ does offer – at least until kids are 11 or 12 – an environment where this way of life is more possible than anywhere else we’ve lived.

And he deserves that.

He deserves to be in place where he feels he can belong.

Not that he didn’t have that in other places, but he was either too young to realise its importance or we were not there long enough for him to feel it.

And that’s something I still regret.

I have a photo of him saying goodbye to his friend on our last day in America that still breaks my heart.

There he is, in his socks and on our drive – after running out the front door of our house – giving Jack a big hug after he realised he may not see him again.

The guilt I still feel about that is one I don’t know I’ll ever get over.

Which is probably what I deserve, given I was the reason for it.

I just hope Otis knows I never want to hurt him … never want to rob him of the people who mean so much to him. Which is why I’m so glad Elodie is still in his life, despite it now being filled with what seems a 1000 new friends from his school and community.

Watching that develop and evolve is one of the most beautiful and special things I’ve ever witnessed.

Sure, there’s the odd drama, but generally it’s a really happy and healthy group. Kids who look out for each other. Supportive, encouraging and just kind. They’re a better example to society than my generation … which is why I hope we don’t fuck the world entirely before they can come in and fix it.

Not that they should have to take on that burden, but that’s the generosity of that generation.

A desire to help everyone prosper, not just the usual suspects.

Of of which my son is one of them … reaffirmed by the goals, ambitions and hopes he tells us he has for his life.

Which is why I want to leave this post with this message to him.

Otis.

My wonderful, beautiful, brilliant Otis.

I love you.

Not a day goes by where I am not proud to be your Dad. Where you make me laugh at your observations of what’s happening in life. Where you blow me away with your passion and enthusiasm for life … from watching endless Kids Youtube, to your love of all things Marvel through to the way you literally transform into this powerful, confident, graceful human fish the moment you enter water.

And every little thing in-between.

You’re brilliant Otis. Proper brilliant.

Not just for what you do, but who you are.

I am so proud of you …

Proud for how you embrace life.

Proud for how you embrace challenges.

Proud for just being a kind, compassionate, considerate kid.

And as much as I wish you weren’t growing up so fast, it’s offset by the joy of seeing who you are becoming. Go forth in life with courage and optimism. It’s very easy to just be seized by the cynicism and darkness of the world … but people like you give it light.

You give it to me.

You light up my whole world.

Happy birthday Otis … you make your Mum and Dad the happiest parents in the World.

Rx

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There’s Tributes And There’s Tributes …

So a little while ago, the wonderful human that was Dan Wieden sadly passed away.

A lot of amazing things were written about this amazing man.

And I added my own little story to the compendium as well.

But there was one that was not published.

Mainly because it was a conversation between some people who worked at Wieden about how sad we were that Dan had passed..

It’s possibly the weirdest tribute written.

Not specific to Dan, I mean ever … and yet, it is a tribute that was expressed with as much love and respect to the man and the legacy he built, as any of the others.

I should point out Dan – and I – are not guilty as charged. The person in question is simply referencing the fact that I sent them to Portland for a W+K meeting and Dan happened to have started W+K in a city where this particular form of ‘entertainment’ was everywhere.

Don’t be hard on the person who wrote it.

They were young.
They were from China.
This was their first overseas trip.
And he was given these experiences by people who wanted to ‘introduce them to the West’.

I personally would have chosen a different approach, but each to their own and I know the intent was to explode this visitors mind in good ways, not damaging.

Given he still remembers his trip so vividly – maybe 10 years+ after it happens – I guess this means they succeeded.

Which results in Dan getting the most unique, but well intentioned tribute ever written.

I think he may have liked it.

Or the sentiment of it at least.

Miss you Mr W.

And you LL.

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My Them …
October 17, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Babies, Cats, China, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Fatherhood, Home, Jill, Love, My Fatherhood, Otis, Rosie, Singapore

Look at that photo.

Look at my kids.

Yes, I appreciate one is a cat, but she isn’t to me.

She’s my demanding, complaining, cranky daughter who – bizarrely – is also a grandmother.

But only in age.

While also being Otis’ ‘kitty sister’.

We had Rosie for 7 years before Otis came around. And when he did, everything changed.

I remember how Rosie couldn’t work out what was happening. Especially how Jill was behaving.

From ruling the roost, she was now playing second fiddle to this screaming object that seemed to be awake at all hours of the day.

Rosie’s way of dealing with it was to sulk.

She would openly shun Jill before blindly following her every move. Blatantly craving the love and focus she had enjoyed for 7 years while pretending she didn’t care.

I felt sorry for her.

I’d talk to her a lot and gave her extra hugs to ‘equalise’ the attention and adoration being given to Otis.

And while you may think this shift in hierarchy could make Rosie hate Otis, she never did.

I’m not saying she loved him, but she put up with him.

However Otis found Rosie fascinating.

He thought she was AMAZING.

But babies don’t know how to treat animals which is why we paid a bloody fortune to have an identical version of her made as a cuddly toy so he could learn how to be gentle with her.

While the identikit cat didn’t achieve the desired result – I would often find him swinging the toy version of Rosie over his head by the tail – he never did anything bad to the real thing.

He loves her. Adores her. Is thrilled every time she pays the slightest bit of notice to him … regardless how small or short.

And I love that.

I love how they have found their own relationship.

Not expecting anything from each other but accepting what each other wants to give.

It may have started as a forced relationship, but it’s definitely a family now.

My family.

I get some people will read this and think I’ve lost the plot.

And maybe I have.

But family is more than blood. It’s understanding.

The good. The bad. The quirks. The demanding.

And when you find the level where you’re able to float with all of that, then you’re doing pretty well. It’s not always easy, but its always worth it.

Which is why I love spending my my time with them – and their Mum – every weekend.

Oh and one last thing.

To Dave …

I’m thinking of you.

I wish I had something I could say that would shield you a little from the emotions you’re facing, but for what it’s worth – know I love you. And love them. Rx

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When Advertising Said More Than Simply ‘Buy Me, Please’ …

Once upon a time, when I lived in Singapore, I popped into the restaurant next to where we lived on Club Street, to get some takeaway.

As I was waiting for my noodles, I saw a man at the bar having a drink.

He had a nice face but the only reason I noticed him was because he had a mark on his head that made him look like Mikhail Gorbachev.

The next day I found out, it was.

While Club Street was blessed with lots of nice restaurants and bars, seeing the ex-head of the Soviet Union having a drink next door to where you live, was not the sort of thing you expect to see.

But then Mikhail was good at the unexpected.

Like the time, in 2007, he turned up in a Louis Vuitton ad.

Back in the days when being an ‘influencer’ meant you had done something to impact the world rather than existed to simply flog product.

But Mikhail was an inspired choice for a whole host of reasons …

One was the visual metaphor he represented for Russia’s journey from communism towards capitalism.

The symbolism of a new era in Russia. And the rest of the world.

And while this ad came out in 2007 – 16 years after he had seen the dissolution of the USSR – what he represented was still clear. Made even more obvious by placing him in the back of a car – in a photo taken by Annie Leibovitz – driving past the Berlin Wall … another symbol of capitalism triumphing over communism.

For many who read this blog, the impact of this change may fly right past you.

I get it, especially if you’ve lived in Western countries, so to give you some context, let me take you to Communist China.

The modern metropolis that you see in photos of China today is certainly not what I found when I first moved there. Especially when you stepped out of central Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou. Though, to be fair, that’s still the case in many parts of the country – including Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou – despite the Middle Kingdom’s incredible modernisation and rise.

Anyway, when I first moved there, Louis Vuitton had a reputation – and nickname – of being ‘the mistress brand’.

There was a simple reason for it …

People who owned it were seen as ‘girlfriends’ of high-level business people or government ministers.

Basically the belief was that because their lovers were one of the few people who were allowed – or could afford to – leave China with ease, they’d buy LV products on their travels and then give them to their lovers as presents on their return.

Was it true?

Not entirely, but there was definitely a ‘second wives’ economy that existed and likely still does.

There was a street near where we lived where every shop was allegedly funded by a generous ‘benefactor’. And you could believe it, because we never saw a customer enter a single store and yet the owners – always young and attractive – were driving the latest Bentley’s. Ferrari’s or Maserati’s.

It was a different world.

And while China has been the centre of the luxury universe for decades, I still remember the Government banning all luxury outdoor advertising in Beijing every now and then to both show their power to the luxury brands who make billions from them as well as reminding the people who live there ‘they were still a communist land’.

Sometimes.

What is interesting is that when Russia and China opened up, Louis Vuitton were one of the quickest brands to see what this could mean for them and their category.

They recognised very early the importance – and confidence – luxury brands could play in culture and so they upped the branding on their products dramatically.

And that’s why these ads, from Ogilvy, are so interesting to me. Because at a time where the cult of luxury was on the rise, these ads attempted to separate LV from the competition by trying to position them with greater significance and purpose.

Presenting LV almost as something you ‘earned the right’ to have rather than something anyone could just buy.

Treating the LV iconography as a badge of honour, not simply wealth.

Reinforcing status as much about how you live, rather than simply what you have.

Maybe this was a reaction to the way Putin was starting to shape Russia to his will.

If you look closely at the bag next to Mikhail, you will see a magazine with the headline ‘Litvinenko’s murder: They wanted to give up the suspect for $7000.’

That headline was on the magazine, New Times, a liberal Russian publication that regularly criticised the Kremlin.

That headline was a reference to Alexander V Litvinenko – the former KGB spy who died in November 2006 after being poisoned in the UK. The former KGB spy who had accused Putin of orchestrating his murder.

While Ogilvy and LV dismissed the significance of that magazine headline, I think it’s pretty safe to say that’s bullshit.

There is no way that is a coincidence.

I get why they said it, but the symbolism of Mikhail … with that magazine poking out his bag … driving past the Berlin Wall … was a pretty blatant message of how far Putin’s Kremlin had taken Russia back to the ‘bad old days’ since Gorbachev had left.

It may have been a condition for Mikhail to feature in the ad.

Only he, Ogilvy and LV execs would know.

But I do admire their stance.

Let’s be honest, there’s absolutely no way that would ever happen now.

Which is as much of a statement on how safe advertising and brands have become as it is of the dangers of Putin and his actions.

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The Taste Of Bullshit …

I’ve written a ton about brand purpose over the years.

Not as viciously as my beloved Martin Weigel. But close.

It’s not that I am against brand purpose, It’s when it’s used as a marketing tool and ‘updated’ to whatever trend is currently popular that my hate boils over.

It’s why I have always advocated for belief rather than purpose.

Belief is demonstrated by what and how you do things, not what and how you say things.

Or give things away.

Belief drives change. Purpose hopes for it.

Which is probably why so many brands prefer purpose.

The ability to look like you care without always having to demonstrate it.

Take this from Unilever food brand, Knorr …

“Our purpose is to reinvent food for humanity by being healthier for both people and the land. 
 Knorr brings the power of flavour to good food to 
overcome barriers that stop us from eating for good”

Sounds good doesn’t it.

Sounds purposeful.

But for those who are not sure what Knorr make, let me enlighten you …

Yeah, when I think of flavour and good food – not to mention being good for humanity and the land – the first thing I think of is cheddar broccoli rice sides.

But maybe I’m wrong, how do you cook these things that help us ‘eat for good’?

Here’s the instructions …

Microwave directions: In 2-quart microwave-safe bowl, combine 2-1/4 cups water, 1 tbsp. margarine(optional) and contents of package. Microwave uncovered at high about 12 minutes* or until rice is tender, stirring once halfway through. Stir and serve.

Yep, thought so. Utter rubbish.

The reason I am writing this is because I recently saw a post from an ice-cream brand.

Have a look at this …

While those words sounds trite, purpose-for-marketing … food and culture are incredibly entwined and so there is a real chance it may be a badly worded version of what they really believe and do.

Let’s look at their website.

For those too lazy, here is a screenshot of their flavours …

Hmmmmn … doesn’t seem too much about people, places or cultures does it?

There’s a lot about ingredients.

Some even seem interesting. But absolutely no mention of people, places or cultures.

But is that surprising when it’s so obviously an absolute load of purpose-washing?

And what a missed opportunity.

They could truly make that into something that could change something.

Educate, unite, challenge, inform … tell the stories of the people, places and cultures that were the inspiration of those flavours through the flavours.

Ben and Jerry’s meets Tony Chocolonely.

And what makes it worse is their intentions sound honourable. They’re already a B-Corp certified business, choose ingredients that are direct-trade and believe in diversity.

All great and important things except nothing to do with what they claim they do on their packaging.

Many years ago, at Wieden, we were invited to pitch for an ice-cream brand.

We said yes because hey, it’s ice cream.

Anyway, when we got the brief, it read like a purpose fluffer.

My god, it was literally dripping in claims and terminology that not only had nothing to do with their category, but had nothing to do with any of their actions, behaviours or products.

We spoke to them about looking at ice cream another way.

If they had to have a ‘purpose’, make that purpose about what ice cream is supposed to be.

Fun and tasty.

Not deeper meaning. Just that.

And then prove it in the product, not just the experience.

You may think that is overly simplistic, but by then the entire category had gone purpose insane and no one was actually owning what they were and what people actually wanted.

Put it this way, it had gone a looooooong way from the days where BBH had brilliantly changed the way people looked at ice cream and did it in a way that was sexy, powerful and based on a real truth. [A campaign so good that is was spoofed brilliantly by Fosters Lager]

Anyway, for us, the way we could get back to what ice cream was but in a way that proved the fun was down to flavours … so unlike Jeni’s ice creams, we actually went out and talked to all manner of people about their weird tastes. Things they love others think are a bit mental. Things that make them deliriously happy for whatever reason or whatever duration. Because we saw an opportunity for the client to be more like a taste and colour experiment lab than a manufacturer of everyday ice-creams and flavours with an unbelievable purpose attached.

So we worked it all up and I remember it for 2 main reasons.

+ We used a picture of a cat in the presentation with an inverted cross on its forehead … which is still my favourite mad presentation image ever used. And I’ve used a lot.

+ When the client wanted us to justify our idea, we simply showed this …

It may not be the deepest reason you’ve ever read.

It may not even be the most exciting.

But it was definitely more believable than all the shit they were saying.

And with the flavour combinations we had and how it all came together with the creative work – which had some weird ice cream flavour meme generator at the heart of it … generating all manner of taste sensation madness out into the internet … it was something that not only would help them differentiate from the competition, but have a place and role in culture.

They hated it.

Instead they went with some bollocks about ice cream being ‘a gesture of love for those who are not rich’.

No, I’m not joking.

Which may also explain why they … Haagan Daaz and Jeni’s talk a lot about their purpose in society but are – with the possible exception of Jeni’s – increasingly irrelevant ice creams brands whereas that old, dumb favourite, Ben And Jerry’s, still has some sort of position in culture, because despite selling out to the death star Unilever, they try to do shit rather than just say it.

Emphasis increasingly on try.

But even with that, the reality is – as is the real test of any brand that claims to have purpose – they show what they believe through every aspect of what they do, even when it’s inconvenient, rather than market what they claim their purpose is, only when it suits them.

Enjoy your day. Be careful you don’t eat any bullshit.

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