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


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.



People In Glass Houses Shouldn’t Be Throwing Stones …

One of the things I hated when I lived in China was hearing people slag off the country for all manner of things.

While some of the accusations were true, the reality was China was not the only country that participated in such behaviour but people chose to ignore that.

Not that I’m defending what was going on, because even though I rarely saw any of it – in fact I saw more in the US and UK when I lived there – I knew it was going on.

However there were some claims that showed people didn’t know what the fuck they were going on about.

The amount of people who would come to Shanghai from America and say, “let’s do ideas that force the government to deal with the pollution crisis”.

They’d say it like they were the very first people to identify China had a problem with pollution – which is possibly the greatest sign of arrogance you could have. So we would tell them.

China knows there is a pollution problem.

They are actively fighting it.

They’ve been the biggest investor in green tech for decades.

Proportionally, they still pump out less pollution into the air than America.

In fact, up until the last few years, they pumped out less pollution than America full stop.

America had been doing that for decades.

And there’s parts of London with a higher pollution index than most parts of China.

Then they’d stop acting like they’re a superhero and start understanding their perspective had been driven by media bias not cultural understanding.

But there were some things that were accusations. The lack of respect for copyright being one.

Of course, it’s not just in China this happens, but it definitely happens there. A lot.

Even now, I still think Uncle Martian is peak-plagiarism … mainly because they didn’t just make replicas and sell them as originals, they created a whole new brand based on the intellectual property of brands including Jordan and Under Armour.

I say that because I recently saw another version of this.

Maybe not quite as bad as Uncle Martian, but pretty terrible al the same.

But not from China … so you can keep your prejudiced thoughts to yourself.

It’s that brand at the top of this post that looks awfully like this …

I am an enormous fan of Liquid Death.

I love what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Not only are they the true embodiment of a cult brand – with some amazing cult behaviours, such as their $100,000 country club membership … or buy a slab of Liquid Death – they have made drinking water in public cool for men.

That’s something no other beverage brand has pulled off.

So while I am sure they would think someone ripping them off is a sign they’re doing something right, it’s also a sign some lazy, parasitic pricks are ripping them off.

Though as George once said when we once pitched an idea to a client who said, “but what if we just asked another agency to do your idea for cheaper?”

If you choose to go with someone copying someone else’s idea rather than the people who actually came up and created the idea, then you deserve all the disappointment and confusion you get. Including the lawsuit.



Belief Is Shown In The Weirdest Of Ways …

One of the great pleasures of my career has been working with NIKE.

What made it even more memorable is that I got to work with them in China … where the challenge and opportunity to develop sport culture was arguably their number one priority.

What it meant was their best people were there and their most senior global management were constantly there so I got to meet them, work with them, present to them and argue with them on a regular basis.

They were good.

As in proper good.

I still remember the first time I met the most senior of senior management and when back to Wieden and said, “Oh, I totally get why they are who they are”.

And I did.

They were incredible.

Sharp. Focused. Ambitious. Progressive and obsessed with culture, sport and creativity.

Then there was the time I met Rosemary.

She had just come to China from the US and I remember being in a meeting where I saw all the global guys go up to her, when normally you saw people go up to them.

I mentioned this to her when we were having a coffee later that week and she eventually admitted the reason they all knew her was because she had been Phil Kinght’s kids babysitter when he was starting the company and she had actually painted the swoosh on the first shoes they produced.

Amazing.

As was her knowledge of the brand.

The nuance, not the headlines.

Underpinning all of these people was a backbone of belief. A pride of who they are matched with a responsibility for where they were going. They were challenging, demanding and questioning … but you always knew it was to get to great rather than to tear you down.

Frankly I’d not seen anything like that, at that level, before – and being old – I had been exposed to some amazing people within organisations.

I will be eternally grateful to Simon and Steve who both invited me in to meetings and discussions I should never have been in … as well as them not killing me when I turned up in my Birkies.

Now it is fair to say, the brand – for all the success it continues to have – has faced some headwinds. Some are shifts in culture, some are shifts in internal culture.

And while there are many opinions and viewpoints flying about, there are many who say the company they are today is not the same company they once were.

Some of that is good, some … well, probably less so.

Too many amazing people have departed.
Too much focus on sales rather than sport.
Too great an emphasis on optimisation rather than progression.

But the great thing about Nike is they always come back.

Sure, some of the things – and people – that allow that to happen are no longer there, but it will be back because this is not the first time they’ve gone through something like this.

Whatever ‘this’ is.

And recently I saw a clue it was starting, bizarrely from someone at McKinsey of all places.

This:

Cool, isn’t it?

But not because of Adam’s interpretation of why it exists, but because it exists.

Someone did this.

Someone chose to do this.

And while there are a whole host of possible reasons why it happened, to me it’s a sign of a brand that still has people in there – beyond the few left I know/work with – who do what they believe is right rather than what their process now dictates they do.

At its best, Nike was always an infectious culture machine.

Making it. Championing it. Enabling it. Fighting for it.

I’ve not seen that as much as I once did.

Maybe, a txt.file is a sign I will.

I hope so.



China Is More Than Just Big Numbers And So Is Singles Day …

As I’ve said many times, I miss China.

I miss everything about it. Except the pollution.

It was – and remains – an incredible important and special place in my life, personally and professionally, and I’m so grateful I get to still do work there.

That said, there’s days where I miss it more than most and today is one of those.

Singles day – because of the date 11.11 – has become the single biggest shopping day on the planet. Bigger than the global Black Friday and New Years Day sales put together.

I have had individual clients sell US$100 million+ of product on that single day … and as huge as that is, it’s nothing compared to some other brands. You see, for all the talk of Singles Day being the luxury brand bonanza, the reality is it’s the more mundane things that sell in far bigger quantities.

There’s lots of reasons for that, of which money is only a small part.

That aside, the whole thing has become an extravaganza … even featuring international celebs [before they were in disrepute] in the lead-up … and yet, while it has finally been ‘discovered’ by many in the West, it still blows my mind at how little they really know, or care, about what started it, what drives it and what it represents to millions in the Middle Kingdom.

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised, because where China is concerned, the West still prefers to be deliberately ignorant to the goings on there … preferring instead to either ignore anything until is comes to the West, or just repeating what they’ve read somewhere without delving more into the culture or the history.

And that’s what I saw a lot there.

In fact, it’s a lot of what I saw wherever I lived, especially in Asia.

The preference for headlines rather than the details.

Easy wins instead of earning your rights.

Acceptance only when it was localised.

What scares me is this attitude seems to be extending beyond just knowing other cultures … but approaches to planning.

Answers rather than listening.
Comments rather than thinking.
Responses rather than considering.
Generalisations rather than nuance.
Complicity rather than a point of view.

I appreciate we live in a world where there is commercial benefit in speed. And while that doesn’t automatically mean it is wrong, it only works if you have people with the real experience and knowledge to be able to answer the problems properly.

There’s a massive difference between someone looking things up on Google and someone who appreciates the nuance and layers that goes behind opinion, beliefs and behaviour.

And yet too often these people don’t get valued by their companies.

Viewed as too costly … when the experience and knowledge they have is the difference between resonating with culture or shouting at people.

Or said another way, doing work that is for people rather than about them.

It blew my mind how little Western markets, and companies, valued my – and everyone else I know who spent considerable time in Asia – experience. I constantly felt a sense of distain from those who had never been there … as if the work and culture didn’t count for anything … despite the history, the economy, the culture and the technology.

Fuck, I had someone recently ask me if I knew TikTok was a Chinese company. A person who claims to be ‘an expert’ in digital. You should have seen their face when I told them that not only did I know that, but it had been around in China for years before it had come to the West.

This does not mean you have to live in another country to care about it. But generally, you do have to if you want to have any way of understanding it beyond the headlines and the superficial clickbait.

Which is why in the next few weeks if someone tries to present you a deck entitled, ‘Singles Day: all you need to know’ … just ask them what the premise is.

If they only talk about big numbers – and, god forbid – something to do with Confucius, run the other way. And if you think I’m joking, I can tell you about the time I was in Beijing and sat in a meeting full of CEO’s and the guest speaker started talking about his proprietary strategy for using Twitter, until it was pointed out that the government ban it there.

This guest was the head of strategy of a major ‘global’ digital agency.

Whether you like it or not, China is vital to your business.

Might be directly or indirectly, but it can’t be ignored, even if your ego has to take the hit.

The fact I have to write this in 2021 is mind-blowing, but here it goes:

Hire Chinese talent.
Value Chinese talent.
Learn from Chinese talent.

I promise you they’ll be able to help you and tell you stuff that is far more insightful and valuable that someone writing a presentation on Singles Day from information sourced via Twitter or the Daily Mail.

Love you China. Miss you.



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.