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


Why Longevity Is About Commitment, Not Expectation …

I recently read an article about footballers who continue to ply their trade in the Premiership despite being in their mid 30’s.

The key takeout was that talent might be able to get you to 17 … but it’s character and commitment that gets you to 35.

It was an interesting view, because there’s a lot of parallels with the ad industry.

Let’s be honest, this industry doesn’t like older people.

We’re expensive.
We’re not willing to work the insane hours it likes us to work.
We’re not as connected to society as our younger colleagues.
We’re all a bit cynical about the claims and promises.

Of course, there is a counter-argument, that these are exactly the sort of attributes the ad industry needs more of.

Experience.
Balance.
Understanding.
Pragmatism.

But what bothers me most is the blanket belief that if you’re not in senior management by a certain age, you have nothing to add. That your value is only in managing the business rather than adding to the creativity.

I wrote about how shortsighted this view was ages ago … reinforced by how much I loved Wieden looked for the creativity in the person rather than the age.

Which leads to my point about footballers.

One of the biggest problems when you’re older is people expect you to know it all.

Of course, some people think they do, but there’s this undercurrant that you should.

So any ‘failure’ is seen as a sign of no longer being appropriate.
Any ‘disagreement’ is viewed as a sign you are not a ‘team player’.
And ‘curiorsity’ gets labelled as trying ‘too hard’.

And yet these say far more about the person judging than the person doing it.

Because in my experience, a failure means a willingness to keep pushing boundaries.
Disagreements don’t mean you’re not a team player, you’re someone who wants the team to be better.
And curiosity is a demonstration you want to play an active role in culture rather than just let it pass you by.

Not to mention the declaration of desire.

Because anyone who chooses to keep pushing their standards and knowledge when they could be choosing an easier path is showing just how much they still want it. Especially when the odds are even greater of them ever achieving it, compared to those younger than them.

For me, these are the advertising equivilent of the footballers character and commitment.

Or said another way …

It’s someone who can keep pace with the needs of the team, while adding to the standards and success of it.

Keeping pace is not simply about speed, but relevance, ambition and creativity.

Of course age doesn’t shouldn’t have anything to do with this – I have met just as many younger people without it as much as I have older – but character and commitment does.

And while there is nothing wrong if you don’t subscribe to this, if companies only measure ‘talent’ by age … they’re not just stupid, they’re showing that they don’t actually care about creativity, just the cliche of it.



Musicians Not Marketers …

Recently I saw this photo of Motorhead.

I fucking love it.

Not because I’m a die-hard Motorhead fan [though I’ve always loved Lemmy] but because it captures a time when music and art were interesting and dangerous partners-in-crime, not focus-group designed ‘brand assets’.

Please do not think this is a rant against people like Ed Sheeran or Dua Lipa.

I both respect and appreciate what they do.

They’re very talented and they’re very musical.

However the way they use music is very different to bands of the past.

Back then, artists like Motorhead used music as a form of expression, whereas modern singers/acts use it more like a product.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means they’re more marketer than musician.

After all, Ed Sheeran admits to using focus groups.

And Dua Lipa’s team acknowledge they closely follow trends.

For them, music is a ‘brand asset’ designed to help achieve specific business goals and targets.

I’m not knocking it, there’s a lot of money doing that … but what people – and marketers – seem to forget is there’s a whole career to be had choosing the alternative.

Where you focus on the idea not the assets.

Where you lead audiences, rather than chase them.

Where you mean everything to someone not something to everyone.

It’s why I found a recent comment by Lady Gaga interesting.

I love her. I think she’s amazing.

But recently she said “don’t call me a singer, I’m an artist”.

And while that might sound like a pretentious diva who also see’s music as a brand asset in a range of their products – it’s not.

It means she see’s what she does as art, which is far more interesting in terms of the possibilities of creativity … because it not about doing things right for others, it’s about doing things that feel right for her.

We need more artists in the World, not marketers.



Audience Is Someone, Not Everyone …

A few weeks ago someone sent me this picture …

Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also right.

At least to a certain audience group.

Which seems to be a thing we’re increasingly forgetting.

Quite a lot of the time, it feels like we experience some sort of group deliberate ignorance. Preferring to suggest ideas will appeal to everyone because we live in a world where the slightest whiff of ‘niche’ is immediately dismissed by clients.

It’s why we have target audiences that are 25-54.

It’s why we have ads that are about people rather than for people.

It’s why we pretend entire generations THINK AND ACT EXACTLY THE SAME.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Especially when think about the huge amounts of money being spent on research to ‘know our audience better’.

Great brands sacrifice.

They want to mean everything to someone rather than be something for everyone.

Which is why they know who they are. Know who they matter to. And know what to focus on.

That doesn’t mean they are limiting their success … they’re growing it.

Valuing who they are as much as what they earn and building scale from leading change rather than blindly chasing popularity.

It’s the foundation of why they charge more, sell more and are desired more. Especially compared to the product amoebas who spend their millions communicating to anyone about absolutely nothing..

So while people in our industry may smugly question the intelligence of the people who wrote that sign on the back of the ute … if we were to invite them to look at what our industry says and does, I’m pretty sure they’d think we’re the bigger joke.



Is This The Ultimate Metaphor For Modern Creativity?

I recently saw this very disturbing video.

When I say ‘disturbing’, it’s not bad … in fact the person in it has CHOSEN to be in this situation … however watching it absolutely freaks me out.

I find it hard to watch.
I find it hard to breath.
I find it hard to comprehend.

In fact, every time I watch it, I start jiggling my arms and neck because I need to feel I am free to move rather than be trapped in the most contrived of spaces.

Have a look at this …

However after forcing myself to watch it a few times, I realised it could be seen as more than just a deranged man wanting to increase the odds of death. It was a perfect metaphor for so much of working in the modern creative industry.

Yes, we could talk about the quest for craft and rigour. The painstaking approach we take to find an idea that will unlock a whole world of change and opportunity. The commitment to doing the right thing rather than the easiest.

I could talk about that, but …

1. I don’t know if that is true for a lot of what goes on these days.

2. It feels far more a reflection of dealing with corporate politics, committees, toxic positivity, arrogance and ego or – worse of all – workshops, specifically those designed to let people ‘feel part of the process’ despite the fact they created the problem you’ve been asked to solve.

I know all this sounds massively arrogant of me.

It’s certainly not the case all the time.

But the fact that when it isn’t, it’s like a revelation means it’s far more present than many like to admit. And that’s horrific. Not just in terms of the wasted energy and time … but in lost opportunities. Which is why the best relationships are built on people who want the same thing.

That doesn’t mean they will always agree on how to achieve it … but it does mean you trust and respect each others opinion, talent and expertise rather than thinking the other party is out to screw you over. Though the way the procurement process is often handled, it’s not hard to see why that happens.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Not if you really want something to be great.

Not if you truly value the work the other party brings to the table.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about costs – of course not – but as I wrote a while back about how Metallica’s management dealt with me when we started working together, their view was when you pay someone well, you’re not just showing respect for what they do, you’re ensuring they want to give you their best in all they do.

Which makes an even more cost effective arrangement.

A more trust-worthy relationship.

A more productive partnership.

Who knew?

Oh yes, the people who understand the value of living up to quality, not purely down to a price.



Cowards Are Oppressors …

Many years ago, I did a campaign for Australian ‘youth’ radio station, Triple J.

Triple J was a government funded radio station, but what set it apart was that it had a mandate to play new artists, preferably Australian, who were definitely not part of the mainstream crowd.

Think John Peel, but Australian.

What I loved about them was how much they divided opinion.

To some they were hope. To others they were noise.

But as we delved deeper, it became apparent the people who thought it was noise were basically proud the followers of the mainstream. The focus-group designed. The beige and the blunted. The average.

Now I appreciate that sounds massively judgemental … but what I found interesting was how companies had basically messed with the meaning of average in a bid to make more cash from customers.

In the old days, average was an achievement.

The meeting point between quality and cost.

Democratisation.

Progression.

Access.

But now average wasn’t that at all.

It was mainstream mediocrity.

Designed for easy, passive appeal. Mindlessness. A strategy of making beige act like gold.

Which led to the point of view of the work: The enemy of average.

Directly targeting anything that had been designed to dumb down rather than lift up.

We got into all sorts of mischief …

From placing warning stickers on all ‘easy listening’ artists in HMV [that saw us being threatened with legal action] … to running ads during mainstream TV to tell viewers they’re being murdered by averageness … to images of mainstream mediocre products being placed in public toilets so you could literally piss on them. [Beige Volvo anyone?]

And while this may all sound madness – and this was the 90’s so tastes were very different – we knew the only way to attract more listeners was to ensure we did it in a way that made our existing fans see we were fighting for what we believe, rather than pandering to popularity.

The old reverse psychology trick.

And it worked because ultimately this was just an extension of who they truly were.

Stubborn, opinionated, mischievous, audacious and uncompromising.

A teen who was very comfortable in playing with the uncomfortable.

And what this did was help build the cult of the brand … helping Triple J enter a new phase of growth while never looking like they were chasing fame.

Of course, they’re not the only ones who have pulled this off.

Playstation did it … NIKE have done it … Supreme do it … but the key to pulling this off successfully is knowing who you are and knowing who you’re for and frankly, not many can brands – or agencies – say that, especially these days.

What makes this even more amazing is how many agencies and companies bang on about their authenticity and purpose … but the problem is they can’t see what they’ve become: a mediocrity pleaser machine.

Of course the signs are there if you just scratch the surface.

Generic, mass audiences.
An aversion for sacrifice.
A desire to remove any sharp edges or opinion.

And while many think making a brand as easy to buy is the greatest way to achieve success, the thing they need to remember is the future goes nowhere in the hands of cowards.