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


Deliberately Ignorant …

Once upon a time, a creative friend of mine rang me up.

He had been offered a job in China and wanted to hear my perspective on being there.

During the conversation, he asked if the pollution was bad.

When I asked why he was asking, he said he was pretty susceptible to asthma and while on his visit to the agency there, he had felt a bit ill, despite the weather being good.

He had asked some of his prospective workmates if they felt the weather was ever bad for breathing and they all said no and he wanted to know my take on it.

I laughed.

Not just because it’s pretty well documented the air there is not great, especially for an asthmatic – despite the government being the biggest investor in green technology in the World – but because it reminded me of something my Dad had told me while watching the Tom Cruise movie, A Few Good Men.

I know this is going off on a tangent, but hang in there.

You see, at the scene where Jack Nicholson spouts his immortal “You Can’t Handle The Truth” line, my Dad burst out laughing.

When I asked why, he said this:

“There are occasions where people will openly deny truth. Not because they hold a different opinion, but because to accept it means they would have to accept their complicity in a situation truth has revealed. Sometimes, the simple act of acknowledgement means people are forced to face and question the motives and values they conveniently chose to hide away”

His point was literally what my friend had experienced.

The prospective colleagues he asked about weather conditions knew full-well there is pollution in the air. However, their mind had almost forced them to forget it. Not because they were liars or bad people, but because if they admitted the truth, then they would be forced to ask themselves why they were there when they knew it was likely to be doing them harm.

We experience this every day.

Deliberate ignorance.

From people hired to purchases made.

Not because people are bad, but because we don’t want face the questionable decisions we’ve chosen to make to benefit our personal circumstances over health, values or friendship.

Which is why my mate decided not to go to China.

The moral of the story.

Remember people sometimes don’t tell you what they think, they tell you what protects them from you knowing what they think.



Driven To The Edge Of Hope …

Years ago, at Wieden, we pitched for Porsche.

Actually we pitched twice and lost both.

Then we pitched for them at R/GA and lost that.

Which means I am the Porsche problem.

Makes sense …

Anyway, the first time we pitched, Sam – one of the creatives, along with Ryan – wrote the best positioning line I’ve ever read.

I can’t say was it was because I don’t want someone to steal his work, but it was one of those moments where you go, “Fuck me, that’s amazing”.

It was so good it conflicted Porsche.

They didn’t like our work at all but wanted to give us the business because of the power of the line. Then ‘international politics’ got in the way and we got told to take a hike.

Or a drive.

Though I acknowledge that I probably didn’t help matters by asking them why they sponsored golf when that was the antithesis of what Porsche were about. Hahahaha.

Anyway, as part of the campaign, Sam wrote a line in the TV script that I also thought was wonderful.

One I am OK with sharing because it isn’t sooooo specific to Porsche. It was …

“Ribbons of road draped over highlands”

God I love it.

I love it so much.

It’s so bloody evocative and – for me – captures the perfect balance between the quiet determination of nature surrounding a thin line of tarmac that has been gently placed over it and the loud performance of a car that’s hurtling along it at breakneck speed.

Torturing and teasing each other.

Both trying to dominate.

A game of cat and mouse.

The fine line between respect and ridicule.

I say all this because I recently came across a picture of a road that I feel this was written for,

Where we were writing for China, this road is in America – California to be more precise – but it is perfect all the same.

Which is why if someone at Porsche reads this and wants to get their brand back to the stature it once had – rather than this ‘fast luxury’ superficialness that it currently seems happy to communicate … let me know, because have Sam, Ryan and I got a brand idea for you.



If You Can’t Beat Them, Turn Them …

I have now had time to get over the Euro finals.

While my Italian/English heritage meant I was going to ‘win’ regardless of the result – and while the result, at least to me, was probably fair – I was gutted for the England team.

Ironically, the disgusting behaviour of the fans after the match – fired up by the equally disgusting behaviour of the British government – kind-of made me happy they lost.

It’s at these moments teams – or brands – can fall away and so what happens next becomes unbelievably important.

It reminded me of 2008 when Chinese hurdler – and gold medal contender – Liu Xiang, broke China’s hearts by injuring himself during the race.

Remember, this was the year the Olympics was held in Beijing and in many ways, it was the governments ‘coming out’ party to the rest of the World. A chance to showcase the nations abilities, talent, skills and sophistication. A declaration a new superpower was here.

While that might have been news to the rest of the World, for the people of China, they had known this for a long time which is why when Liu Xiang faltered through injury, people – like in the UK – started to turn on him.

While he did not face the disgusting and disgraceful racist abuse certain members of the England team have encountered, he did face claims that by pulling out mid-race, he had not tried hard enough, had embarrassed China and sold the people false hope.

Because Liu Xiang was a NIKE athlete, overnight W+K Shanghai created an ad that aimed to reframe the loss for the people across China.

To shift emotions from anger to pride, love, support.

The next morning, this ad ran in most of the papers …

It is still widely acknowledged as one of the pivotal pieces of communication.

Not just by the industry.

Not just by NIKE.

Not even by Liu Xiang.

But by people across China who woke up to that ad the next morning.

Turning anger to sympathy.

Turning abuse to respect.

Turning sport into culture.

I say all this because on the day England finished runners-up in the Euro’s, the English FA released – what I consider – the modern version of our Liu Xiang ad.

I hope it works for England and their players.

But mainly the players.

Because they did bring something home …

Every one of them.

Pride. Unity. Hope.

Until those racist fucks robbed it off them … off the rest of us.

And while the media may like to suggest those responsible are a small minority of hooligans, the reality is it’s not a small minority and hooligans are not some cartoon villain.

In fact the problem is these pricks live amongst all of us. They are invisible because they look, live and work like so many of us. They’re fathers. Sons. Brothers. Uncles.

They’re also racist scum.

Exemplified by their hate towards the 3 England players who missed their penalties.

These 3 brilliant and inspiring men are young.

Hell, Bukayo Saka is 19.

NINETEEN.

At that age I couldn’t even ask out a woman who worked on the till at Asda, West Bridgford … so anyone who gives him shit when he’s playing for the England national football team, in the final of the Euro’s, at the most intense and pressured moment of the entire tournament, with billions watching can just fuck off.

Winning FIFA 2014 on Playstation doesn’t make you a winner, it makes you a fantasist.

And to them I am glad football didn’t come home.

I just wish football could take them far away from it.



The Wall Is Your Friend …

Many years ago, we were working on a NIKE project about inspiration for China.

China and sport had a weird relationship because it was either seen as a distraction to academic success or a ruthless and relentless act to achieve a pre-determined goal.

I still remember spending hours looking for any photo where we saw a parent or a teacher or a coach encouraging a kid doing a sport … but it was hard. Not because adults didn’t care about the kids in their charge, but because there was this attitude that encouragement encouraged laziness.

Tough love indeed.

But when we talked to kids who loved sport for no other reason than loving sport, the thing we found fascinating was how one of their great inspirations was a wall … or a court … or a park somewhere near where they lived.

This would be where they could kick, throw, hit, head or play against hour after hour … day after day.

This was where they could play without judgement or expectation … but with plenty of competition.

Because walls don’t get tired.

They don’t show sympathy.

They’re always ready to play.

We all have a wall.

They may look like others.

But there is one that is yours and yours alone.

For me, it was the wall of a Church opposite Erika’s sweet shop at the Top Shop.

It was up the road from my childhood home.

I would go up there every night over summer.

Sometimes by myself. Sometimes with friends.

And that would be the arena and the competition for all manner of games.

From playing footie with empty cans … playing cricket by throwing tennis balls as hard against the wall as we can to just practicing our skills of tennis or keepie-uppie. And then on a Friday evening – after school – a bunch of the kids from where I lived would gather by the field next to the church and play a massive game that drew all the girls from school to watch us.

That wall was a major part of my childhood. Of my love of sport. It helped me connect to where I lived, to the people who lived there and just what I wanted to do.

Sport was deeply entrenched in the place I grew up.

Not in terms of a formal team – though we had that and we also had Nottingham Forest doing well at the time – I mean as an outlet for kids to do shit.

Now I’m not sure if that is still the case.

We live in gentrified times.

Where noise is challenged with authority.

Where parks are placed on the outskirts of towns, not the centre,

Where sport is becoming more about the quest for fame rather than enjoyment.

It’s one of the biggest thrills of living in New Zealand.

It’s still an outdoor culture.

Otis has done more running around and visited more parks here than he ever did in the UK. Which has helped him meet more friends than he could ever have hoped to in his time here.

Given the year he had in lockdown, the impact on him has been huge.

And that’s why we should encourage sport to be played as much on the streets as in the parks and schools. Because sport adds to communities in ways that makes communities.

Let the wall be culture’s best inspiration and competitor.



Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.