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


The Great Effectiveness Swindle …

There’s so many agencies, consultancies and self-appointed guru’s out there who talk about how to be successful at business.

They all have their models, eco-systems, philosophies and proof points.

And yet so few have ever done it for themselves.

They’ve chosen to ‘succeed’ under the safety-net of anothers money, reputation or effort.

That doesn’t mean what they do or think doesn’t have value – of course it does – but it also doesn’t mean their viewpoint is the only one worth counting.

And yet, every single bloody day, that’s how it is presented.

Recently someone wrote a piece on how they had used their proprietary research methodology on a Cannes winning TV ad and declared it would not deliver sustainable growth for the brand in question.

Putting aside the fact they were judging work that had won a creativity award rather than an effectiveness one … the thing I found funny was their confidence in proclaiming their view was the ultimate view.

I am not doubting their smarts.

I am not doubting their data.

But I am doubting their breadth of business appreciation.

And yet somehow, the voices of a few have positioned themselves as the be-all and end-all of effectiveness.

Don’t follow us and you fail.
Don’t follow us and your brand will lose.
Don’t follow us and you will be labeled foolish.

Now I am not denying these people do have a lot of experience and lessons we can learn from, but they’re not infallible.

But that’s how the industry approaches them.

Lording them like they are Yoda’s of the future.

But they’re not.

Don’t get me wrong, they are very good at evaluating effectiveness from a particular perspective and set of behaviours. Offering advice that can be hugely important in the decision making process.

But there’s a whole host of brands and business that have adopted totally different models and achieved ‘effectiveness and success’ that leaves others far behind.

Incredible sustainable success.

From Liquid Death to SKP-S to Gentle Monster to Vollebak to Metallica to name but a few.

Oh I know what some will say …

“They’re niche”“they’re young”“they’re not that successful”.

And to those people I would say maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about … because in just that list, it includes the biggest selling brand on Amazon, the fastest selling brand in their category on earth and the second most successful American band in history.

But there were two things that really brought the issue of mindset narrowcasting to me …

The first was the launch of a book that was basically about creating future customer desire for your brand/business.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that … but no shit Sherlock.

Has the market got so short-sighted and insular that the idea of doing things that also drive your future value and desirability become a revelation?

It’s literally the most basic entrepreneur mindset, and yet it was presented like it was Newton discovering the laws of gravity.

This person is super smart.

They’ve done a lot of good stuff.

But it just feels the actions of some in the industry are driven by the fetishisation of icon status … even though, ironically, what it does is highlight their experience may be narrower than they realise.

But at least the book had good stuff in there.

Stuff that could help people with some of the basics.

A desire to look forward rather than get lost in the optimisation circle-jerk.

This next one was a whole lot worse.

Recently an ex-employer of mine went to see a current client of mine.

Specifically the founder and CEO.

Apparently they went in to tell him he was missing out on a whole host of business and they could help him get more.

They then proceeded to present a massive document on how they would do it.

He looked at them and told them it was very interesting but they were wrong.

He told them their premise was based on a business approach he doesn’t follow or believe in.

A business approach that didn’t reflect the industry he was in, only the industry they were in.

He then informed them he had the most profitable store on the planet and so while he appreciated their time, he had faith in his approach and it was serving him well.

But it gets better.

As they were leaving – and I’ve been told this is true by someone who was apparently there – the person showing them out informed them their boss had a personal net worth of US$36 billion and based on their companies current share price, that meant he was more valuable than their entire group.

Was it an asshole thing to do?

Yep.

Do I absolutely love it?

Oh yeah.

Will I get in trouble for telling this?

Errrrrm, probably.

My point is the industry has decided ‘effectiveness’ can only be achieved and measured in one way and any deviation from that is immediately discounted or considered ‘flawed’.

Often by people who have never actually built a world leading business themselves.

Again, I am not dismissing the importance of what is being said, it’s HUGELY important – which is why I’m proud we won the Cannes/Warc effectiveness Grand Prix – but, and it’s a huge one, if we think that’s the only model and only use that one ‘model’, then we are literally adopting a single approach to solve every one of our clients every problems.

One.

That’s insane.

Not just because it’s stupid but because if everyone adopts the same approach, then impact will be influenced far more by spend and distribution that strategy.

Please note I am absolutely not saying we should burn the models or philosophies or systems that have proven their value to drive business. No. Absolutely not. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be praying at the feet of them … especially when many are simply focused on creating steady impact rather than spectacular.

Yes, I know ‘spectacular’ has a lifespan – which is why innovation is so important – but so many brands out there either aim for the middle … reinforced by processes, protocols and rules defined as ‘best practice’ by people in a particular industry … or they bake-in ‘limitation’ into their potential because they’ve blindly adopted rules they never challenge or explore from other industries or entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, if a brand like Liquid Death can become the biggest selling water brand on Amazon because they found a way to make men actually want to drink water through a model and approach that is not only radically different to what so many of the industry experts say is ‘the only way’ … but is the opposite of it … then your brand may be inhibiting itself by following a model designed to make you fit in with it, rather than redefine how it fits in with you.

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Valued Rather Than Value …

I’ve written a bunch about clients who have gone out of their way to make me feel valued.

Like the signed Wayne Rooney shirt I was given to give to a cab driver I met in Atlanta.

Or the green M&M’s so I could live out my Van Halen fantasies when they asked me to do a talk with little notice.

Or the years supply of Coke Zero because they knew I really, really love it.

Or the amazing custom built guitar with unique detailing to say goodbye when I left China.

Or – most recently – that photograph at the top of this post.

Of Rick Rubin with the Beastie Boys outside Radio City in NYC by Josh Cheuse.

From 1985.

Autographed by all.

Which was a gift from the management team of musical gods.

Like, what the hell?!

Yes, I know this means I have a lot of clients that are obviously bonkers, but the most valuable thing they did with all this was teach me the difference between valued and value.

Because with all these clients, I was a pain in the arse to them.

I demanded a lot from them.

We would ‘debate’ over stuff.

And yet, rather than complain about me, they let me know they appreciated it.

Because they knew the reason for it was because I wanted them to win better.

And I did. And do.

Because win better is not about simply ‘fulfilling the requirements of the client brief at a price that represents value for money’ … it’s about pushing for change, standards and possibility.

Because when you do that, you open the door to work that can take you to totally new places with totally new possibilities.

Now I’m not saying it’s easy.

Nor am I saying I’m the only one who does it.

Weigel is the master of it.
Wieden was built on it.
And Colenso haven’t won agency of the decade twice in a row by accident.

But what is common to all is dealing in truth rather than pandering to ego.

Playing up to standards rather than down to compromise.

Having the hard conversations rather than the convenient ones.

And with this means sometimes having to deal with gut-wrenching fails.

But here’s the thing, I’ve learned …

Great clients want great. Great thinking. Great ideas. Great results.

But it’s more than just wanting it …

They actively encourage it and help it through their systems.

They are transparent and honest while being open and ambitious.

They rely as much on their experience and taste as they do their research processes.

So even if things don’t quite end up where you all hoped, they understand, appreciate and protect what you did together and keep internal minds focused on what it achieved rather than just what it didn’t.

And they do this by not just looking at the numbers, but the audience.

And when I say that, I don’t mean they define their ‘customers’ in some faceless, colour-coded, generic set of terms.

They know and invest in understanding the sub-culture of their category and brand.

Not just what they buy.

Or how they use product.

But what the hell is going on in their life.

Because it’s not just about ‘shifting product’, it’s also creating change.

Something that opens up the future rather than just continually trades from the middle.

My old Nike client, Simon Pestridge – who I’m so happy is my client again – said something to me once I’ve held on to.

“Middle management want to be told they’re right, senior management want to know how to be better”

Because he is so good, he didn’t realise how he behaves is not representative of all senior management. But in my experience, it is of the truly great.

And that’s why they don’t look at value simply in terms of ‘economic return x input cost’, they look at it in terms of ‘are you making us better’.

The industry seems to have forgotten that.

Too many appear to have chosen pandering as a business model.

Too many bosses demands compliance rather than curiousity.

And that’s what we need to change …

Because challenging the client doesn’t mean you are an asshole.

It means you give a fuck.

Play to be valued.

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Keep Them Mean To Keep Them Subservient …

As it is the first of August, I thought I’d change the tone of the posts from the rather heavy ones of July to something a bit more ‘light’.

Which is why today I’m writing about cats.

As you know, I love those feline sods.

Specifically my feline sod … Rosie.

The things I’ve done for her.

Taken her around the World.

Got an import licence in China so we could get her her favourite treats.

Built custom ‘penthouse cat houses’ for her, so she could enjoy the outdoors in safety.

Got a company to make a bloody stuffed toy version of her for us.

In fact, it’s so realistic a client once thought she was stuck on a wardrobe during a zoom call.

And what do I get in return?

Complaints.

Demands.

Distain.

And a distinct lack of love or emotion.

Oh I know she loves me really.

Not as much as we love her, obvs … but there is affection there. Deep down.

However I recently saw something that not only summed her up, but summed all cats up which perfectly explains why some people hate them, and why some – like me – are at their mercy, will and command.

If humans treated humans this way, it would be considered an abusive relationship.

But cats powers of manipulation has managed to reframe that as ‘personality’.

Seriously, if you want to know the art of strategy, forget the Weigel’s, Bloodworth’s, Ritson’s and Collin’s and just study cats.

They’re bastards. But they’re brilliant bastards … as demonstrated by this photo that, for me, is the best encapsulation of cattidude you will ever see.

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Stop Filtering Out The Weird, Because That’s What Makes Us Human …

I’ve written about this subject before, but one of the biggest issues I think is facing marketing strategy these days is the obsession with corporate logic.

The quest to create frameworks and messaging that ultimates dictates and demands order, consistency and control. Not to help clients build the brand, but to help clients feel safe and comfortable.

And while that may all sound great in theory, the reality is – as the owner of the store with the horn discovered – that it often backfires magnificently.

Because great strategy isn’t logical, its logic born from the ability to make sense of the ridiculousness of reality.

Whether that is amateur artists buying a Mona Lisa painting when they really want the frame or

And the beauty of that is it liberates the possibilities of creativity …

Whether that is an actor who lets the paparazzi see them every night to avoid being photographed by them to the Chinese Government adding a mini ‘scratch card’ on till receipts to get customers to ask for it so it forces the seller to put it through the till and the government can ensure they get their tax through to a beer that is an act of love.

I’ve been talking about the power of devious strategy for years … and while I’m not claiming it is anything extraordinary, when you compare it to what so many think passes for good – I’d choose it any day of the week.

Not just because it leads to better work, but because creative ridiculousness is becoming a far more powerful way to drive commercial effectiveness than corporate-appeasing, logic.



Nothing Reveals A Fool Like The Willingness They Have To Share Their Wisdom …

I know what you’re thinking, that post above is a joke.

Has to be, doesn’t it?

Probably posted by a comedian who did it to set up the premise of their act which is about how ridiculous it is some men who think they have the right to control, blame or judge women for their own tragic, delusional and illusional bullshit.

Except – as you guessed it – it isn’t.

It’s true. It’s bloody true.

And while I could use this post to highlight the bullshit of religion – and America’s religious right – I’m not going to.

Not because I’ve suddenly become mature, but because Owen has done it all on his own.

Instead, I am going to talk about the other thing he is demonstrating … something many people, religious or not, are doing … and that is confusing opinion for intelligence.

A long time ago, I wrote a post about a line that featured in the movie about Margaret Thatcher featuring Meryl Streep.

It was this …

“Everyone prefers to feel these days instead of think. Why is no one thinking anymore?”

Now I – as anyone who knows me, knows – am a big believer in ‘feelings’ and yet even I agreed with the point she was making in that statement.

And I think that’s kind of similar to the point about some people mistaking opinion for intelligence.

This belief that just because you think it means everyone should feel the same.

Acting like an all-seeing guru.

The Yoda’s, Yoda.

My god … the lack of self-awareness is incredible. But it’s not simply because these people live and interact in a very tiny bubble – surrounded like minded sheep – it’s also because they refuse to be open to the lives, contexts and considerations of others.

God, there were so many of these people in China.

Predominantly white, Western men … who would immediately think and act like ‘they knew best’, regardless that they’d never been to China or – if they had – had only interacted in Western contexts.

Oh the shit they’d spout …

The blinkered ignorance they’d spew.

From talking about twitter in a nation that didn’t have it … to saying Asian women would not buy expensive lingerie because they only buy things that show status to society to telling Chinese business people how to sell their products in China, despite it being their very first time in the country … you name it, I heard it.

I used to call it ‘the generosity of stupidity’.

And while it is easy to laugh at them – and people like Owen, with his misogynistic, sexist bullshit – the scary thing is they attract audiences and we’re to blame.

You see we think it’s so obvious they’re ridiculous that we don’t need to call them out on it. But the problem is, this feeds their belief they’re right and before you know it, they come out with tweets that suggest a women wearing leggings is an act of sexual temptation.

Worse, an act of sexual temptation that is entirely the woman’s fault, regardless of the fact they’re just wearing some leggings because they’re comfy or stylish or it doesn’t matter what the fuck the reason is.

Which is why I think we should all follow the advice of Peter Mensch.

Peter is one half of Metallica’s long-term managers and when I asked him what he thought his job was, he said this:

“I’m paid to tell them the truth. They might not like it, they might not follow it, but it is my job to ensure they know the reality of the situation they are going into, based on 40+ years of experience working at the highest, most demanding, most successful standards of music management”.

Or said another way …

When you meet people like this, if you don’t deal with them, you’re complicit to them.

And while some may say that is argumentative and aggressive approach, I’ll leave you with something my Dad used to tell his young lawyers about the importance of dealing with issues head on.

“Nothing shows respect like providing a client with inconvenient truth”.

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No post tomorrow as we celebrate the wonderful Matariki … so see you Monday.