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


The Fine Line Between Hero And Horrible …

Back from a nice long weekend.

Hey, if this makes you feel bad, imagine how my poor colleagues feel.

Anyway …

I recently read the book Hype, by Gabrielle Bluestone.

It is depressingly brilliant.

While it covers a huge range of topics, it centres on the actions and behaviours of Fyre Festival founder [or should I say, scammer] Billy McFarland.

Now I appreciate with worldwide coverage and 2 documentaries on the subject, you may think you know all that needs to be known, but apart from Gabrielle bringing some new information to the table, what makes it especially interesting is how she compares his actions to others who are regarded as business geniuses.

Like Elon Musk.

Now you might think that sounds like the actions of someone desperate to create hype for their new book. But no. It’s incredibly well written and researched … and as you turn page after page, with hustler/liar story after hustler/liar story, you come away thinking the whole world has fallen for the Emperors New Clothes trick.

Not to mention that either Billy McFarland is unlucky to be sentenced to jail or Elon Musk – and countless other business people and influencers – are lucky not to be.

Society loves its success stories.

It loves trying to ‘codify‘ the system.

But while only a few ever succeed, it doesn’t stop people blindly following some ‘proven’ rules. Often losing themselves in details rather than appreciating context.

All the while making the originator [or person who shouted the loudest, quickest] even more powerful and famous … before they end up a caricature of what they once were.

I’m seeing a lot of this in marketingland at the moment.

Now, I am not suggesting these people are doing it to ‘con’ anyone. Far from it. In fact their intentions are pretty wonderful. But somewhere along the line, their perspective has developed into a ‘system’ and that system now has a number of unquestionable and unshakeable rules attached to it which, ironically, is starting to negatively affect the very industry they want to help.

To be fair, they are not entirely responsible.

They are a bit … because they give their ‘system’ names that suggest intellectual superiority when it’s really ‘an educated beginners guide’, plus they conveniently turn a blind eye to how many of their students are executing what they learnt – without context or real audience understanding – so it ends up just being lowest common denominator thinking. But the real reason this situation is occurring is too many companies aren’t investing enough in talent or training, so they send people off to do courses with fancy names so they can all look and feel like they are.

Putting aside the fact this also highlights how many companies lack a philosophy regarding their approach and value to marketing, what this ‘one size fits all’ approach is doing is educating a whole generation of marketer/advertiser/company that talent, standards and creativity are not nearly as important as having people who can follow – and police – process, formats and parity.

We’re in danger of getting to the point where independent thinking is seen as dangerous.

Or weakness.

Or anything other than strength.

And while understanding how things work is important, creating a singular approach and process where building brands and creativity is approached like an airfix model – where the outcome is always the same, albeit with different brand names/colours attached – seems to be more about undermining the purpose of marketing rather than liberate it.

What makes this even more amusing is the brands who are attracting the greatest cultural momentum, loyalty and brand value right now are not following any of these ‘process rules’. More than that, they’re building their reputation and value through the creation of distinctive brand ideas that talk directly to their audiences rather than focusing on brand attribution that aims to be slightly memorable among their category.

[Please note, I’m talking about brands with a real business behind them, not just social hype]

Now I appreciate the context and circumstances of cultural brands and the brands who are adopting a marketing ‘system’ are very different … but what I’m trying to highlight is that we now find ourselves in this weird situation where the ambition for many brands is to not find ways to get ahead but to not be left behind – all the while bombarding the market with claims of innovation, new thinking, new opportunities.

And that’s why I loved reading Hype so much.

Not just because it pulled back the curtain on the hypocritical bullshit of so many self-appointed ‘business icons’, but it revealed where we’re all heading if we’re not careful … even though I know there will be people out there who read it and see it as their goal rather than their ruin.



Originality Wanted …

I still remember buying a movie soundtrack only to discover none of the songs had actually featured in the movie.

When I looked at the cover, I saw “songs inspired by the movie” … in other words, the film company couldn’t get the rights to release the actual music, so they got some two-bit band to write some nondescript music supposedly after watching the film.

It wasn’t as bad as those albums where they got a covers band to sing a well known song – rather than the actual artist – but it was close.

The reason I say this is that I’m seeing a bunch of ‘write-ups’ of ads that seem to adopt the same position.

“Inspired by”.

“Influenced”

“Reinterpreted”.

Now there’s nothing really wrong with this … it’s something that’s been done by all manner of industries for centuries … however while there’s a common belief that ‘genius steals’, the counter to this is ‘lazy borrows’.

I know … I know … I’m being deliberately assholey, but the beauty of our industry is when we allow creatives the freedom to create.

To allow their crazy minds to take us all to crazy intriguing places.

But instead … thanks to budgets, timelines, dictatorial research, corporate fear, layers of management – and countless other things – we don’t.

Which is why we see so many pieces of work that are replications of a film, a meme, a song, a TikTok idea … basically a version of an album of popular songs that haven’t been played by any of the original artists.

Our industry is capable of brilliant things.

But we’ve sold creativity down the river in a bid to make things easier for people who don’t even value the power of creativity.

Nothing smacks of madness as much as that.

Meanwhile, culture leads change of behaviour, attitudes and choices through its endless energy to explore and express.

So while being inspired is one thing, duplicating is another and when certain brands expect people to spend hundreds or thousands on their products, it blows my mind they want to under-invest in the way they actually present themselves in their communication.

Oh they won’t see it that way.

They’ll talk about the celebrity they hired to front the campaign.

Or the music they licensed.

But underneath it all, they’ll they’re taking shortcuts.

They’ll kid themselves it’s working with charts on optimisation or efficiencies … but the reality is they’re trying to work out how long they’ve got before it all falls apart, because the difference between leading and chasing is not about spend, it’s about attitude.

Or said another way …

You either make music or you’re just a cover band.



We Don’t Work …

I know the world has been affected by COVID.

I know most people are working from home rather than offices.

But … but … look at these results from WeWork:

I’ve written a lot about WeWork in the past.

I even worked with one of the founders in their early days at Wieden.

And there was even an occasion where they were talking to us at R/GA.

In every one of those encounters, I never understood why they referred to themselves as a tech company. Actually let me rephrase that. I did understand why they wanted to be seen as a tech company as it would mean their valuation would probably be even more ridiculous … but the way they talked about themselves in the early days – and the thing they were doing to make it real – meant they could still be something very powerful and influential if they’d just stuck with their path.

But they didn’t, which is why with Q1 results like that, it would appear their version of being a tech company was to be like Microsoft Vista.

Big hype.

But a terrible, terrible, terrible experience.

Which all goes to show that many in the investment community don’t make decisions on identifying new opportunities, but on being scared of being left behind.

Like most brand planning.



Blame Throwing …
June 2, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Corporate Evil, Experience, Relevance

So when we were leaving for New Zealand, I wanted to change our house insurance to cover the people we were renting.

So I rang our insurer – Hiscox – only to be told they would not be willing to insure our house as we’ll be living overseas.

They were fine with insuring our house.

They were fine with insuring our house with tenants.

But because we were going to be living overseas, we were told:

“We don’t want to insure you”.

They used those exact words.

Now I don’t know if this is their general policy – I know we’ve had other insurers look after our house while living overseas – but their general attitude was pretty horrific, made even more pathetic when a couple of days later they sent us a letter saying, ‘we’re sorry you have decided not to use us again’.

Now maybe this was computer generated, but I wasn’t going to let them cancel me then blame me, so I sent a letter back pointing out that I had actually wanted to extend my policy but they decided “they didn’t want me”, despite me always paying their higher-than-average policy rates on time.

You’d think that would be the end of it … but then I got a letter a day or so later. Not to apologise. Not to thank me for my previous custom. But to offer me ‘a deal’ to renew my house insurance with them again.

What the absolute fuck.

The next day, I got another correspondence from them. This …

So they acknowledge they made a mistake offering me a deal they had no intention to fulfil. But they failed to acknowledge their terrible service to a customer.

So I wrote to ‘Bob’ to explain how his companies ‘premier service’ was more Premier Inn than premier. And that’s not being fair to the Premier Inn, because every time I’ve stayed there – and I’ve stayed there a lot – the service has been great.

Not great in proportion to their price.

But great.

And while I have never accepted the maxim that ‘the customer is always right’, I can assure you neither is the company.

So dear Hiscox, maybe you need to take a policy out on yourselves, because if you carry on with the customer service you handed out to me, you’ll be needing to make a claim in no time.



Convenient Stupidity …

Marketing is always trying to find a way to be ‘relevant’ to its customers.

Of course, the real reason for this is because many of them don’t care about their customers beyond what they’re spending their money on.

It’s for this reason we so much bandwagon jumping – where brands suddenly claim to care about issues they’ve never shown any interest in and, in some cases, directly contributed to the issue society is fighting against – because they need to keep that money rolling in.

It’s why we have so much ‘purpose’ being spouted in marketing decks all around the World and why so many brands appear schizophrenic as they switch their attention to whatever social issue they think will ‘optimise’ their return on illusion. I mean, purpose. Ahem.

Putting aside the fact that if a brand really was committed to their purpose, they wouldn’t be changing it in the blink of an eye … there are at least some brands who put in some effort … who actually invest some money into what they believe. However, there’s others who just look for the easiest way to lie.

What. The. Hell???

I mean, there’s greenwashing, but this isn’t greensplashing.

I particularly love how they claim to have ‘overlooked the possibility’ the naming could mislead the people.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Nothing shows how little regard they have for their customers than using that excuse.

I mean, doing such a terribly shit thing is horrific … but using an excuse like that to ‘justify their actions’ shows how they literally don’t care.

They’re laughing at us.

They think we’re stupid.

So let’s prove them right by never buying one of their products and say we overlooked the possibility they wanted us to actually buy their shit.