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


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.



Create Change, Not Ads …

One of the reasons I always loved Colenso was their approach to advertising.

Rather than always make the ‘ad’ the solution – or worse, use ads to promote the problem – they used creativity to solve the challenge in front of them and then created brilliant advertising to amplify awareness of whatever solution they’d come up with.

I’d talked about this approach in a presentation I did way back in 2008 for PFSK in Singapore.

We had just launched Sunshine and I was talking about the difference between solutions and ad solutions … all while Colenso had found a way to bridge both.

They used this ‘double dipping’ creative approach for everything.

Treehouse Restaurant for Yellow Pages.
Asscam for Levi’s.
Play for Spark.
Tally for State Insurance.
X-Ray Cast for Anchor.
Speed Dial for Volkswagen.
MyHooman for Pedigree
Brewtrolium for DB Export.
K9FM for Pedigree.

There’s too many examples to write about, and now I’m at the agency that did all this brilliance.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen this approach in action almost every day.

Of course it doesn’t always work … and it doesn’t always get bought … but the idea of bringing audacious solutions to problems rather than just audacious advertising is something pretty infectious.

There are a few really exciting things on the table, but recently we launched something – with our client Spark – that doesn’t just excite me, but makes me so proud I’m going to break my habit and actually write about it.

I know, who am I?

Beyond Binary is our way to create a better internet. A more inclusive internet.

In conjunction with our client, Spark – and working alongside rainbow communities – we developed a piece of code that anyone can download and easily add to their website.

What this code does is change the field formats on websites so they no longer only offer Male or Female options.

While to many this may seem a small thing, to the Trans and Non-Binary community – of which we are talking millions – it is important. Not simply because it represents them being seen and valued by organisations, but because it stops them being forced to misidentify who they are to fit in with established internet protocols.

In addition to the code, we made a film [see below] to help communicate why this is important for the non-binary community and business … as well as a website where you can download the code, learn how to add it to your existing site, hear stories from people who are affected by this situation every day and even access a pre-written presentation you can use to show your bosses why they need to do this.

A lot of people spent a lot of time working on this – which is why I was so thrilled when Campaign Asia wrote such a lovely piece about it.

I am not saying this because they used a competitor campaign to highlight how good ours is – though that helps, hahaha – but because they got it.

The understood exactly why we did it and how we did it … and that’s important because we sweated this. A lot.

Obviously we’re very proud of Beyond Binary but the key is getting companies to take part … so if you read this blog and work for a company with a website, please can I ask you to get involved. The more inclusive we make the internet, the better it is for everyone.

Thank you Colenso for being stupid enough to bring me over.
Thank you Spark for making this actually happen.
Thank you to the communities for helping and trusting us to do this right.
Thank you to anyone who takes part.

This is why it’s so important …




Design Changes Possibilities …

Yesterday I wrote about laziness in retail, well today I’m going to write about when you care deeply about it.

Have a look at this packaging:

Maybe it’s because I’m half Italian.

Maybe it’s because pasta is my undisputed favourite food.

Maybe it’s because the brand uses wheat from the region of Italy my family is from.

But how utterly glorious is it?!

It does everything packaging should do …

It is distinctive without trying too hard.

It shows the quality of the product inside.

It feels premium without being pretentious and charming without being childish.

It is a bloody masterpiece.

I love that because the pasta shape is an integral part of the packaging design, it allows the overall look to be clean while still being informative.

What’s even better is that while it started out as a project by Russian designer, Nikita Konkin … it ended up being turned into a real brand by German company, Greenomic Delikatessen, who bought the idea of Nikita.

Or said another way …

Creativity turned an everyday product into something with a highly desirable and distinctive commercial value.

Isn’t it funny how all those marketing training programs being flogged left, right and centre never talk about this sort of thing. Instead it’s all dot-to-dot processes to build identikit branded assets, eco-systems and strategy frameworks.

But then this also shows the difference between design and adland.

Designers identify real problems and look for ways to solve them with clarity, simplicity and distinctiveness. Whereas too many in adland choose what problem that want to solve and then add all manner of complexity to the solution in a bid to look like they’re fucking geniuses or to try and justify the ever decreasing fee the procurement department is forcing on them.

Remember Peggy?

The ‘innovation’ JWT Australia claimed ‘would allow their client to empower people to maximise their day through weather aggregation technology’. What that bullshit translated to was a ‘scam product and app’ that would tell you if it was going to rain so you’d know if you should hang your clothes out to dry

Yep, forget weather apps.

Forget USING YOUR EYES TO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.

JWT was going to revolutionise the ‘washing line process’.

By making it longer, shitter and more expensive.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Unsurprisingly nothing happened with it because it was utter bollocks whereas everything happened for Nikita because he actually saw something that had real commercial value without extensive investment.

However in classic Russian melodrama style, he says he came up with the idea when he was “in love and perhaps this influenced me, though it could be just a coincidence” … which suggests he’s no longer in love and probably spending his time designing vodka bottles that look like your heart is dying. Or something.

I have written a lot in the past about the importance and value of design.

Whether it was the brilliant SONOS ‘sound waves‘ or the potential of using BK’s new logo as an emoji for food ordering.

Underpinning all of this is consideration, simplicity and craft.

Yes, I appreciate a personal project affords you more time than a client project … but designers are getting it right more often than adland and yet the talent in adland is there.

There’s tons of it. Everywhere.

And while there are still some amazing things coming out from the industry, I can’t help but feel design is pushing the possibilities of creativity more … which means the issue for adland must be something else.

Whether that is time, expectation, budgets or relationships, I’m not sure … but whatever it is, the attitude of ‘good enough is good enough’ is far too prevalent these days.

Or should I say, it is until someone like Nikita comes along and shows companies what they could have if they allow the experts to show them how they see the World rather than being told what to create by a committee of middle managers who value speed over quality and lack taste, judgement and real understanding of their audience.

It’s not easy to make something great.

But as a packet of pasta proves, it’s worth it.

Creatively, commercially and culturally.