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.



Connect Don’t Communicate …

As many of you know, I’m quite the emotional guy.

[OK, I get it … that’s an understatement. Let’s leave it there]

But while this can sometimes result in me having an ‘Elton John’ moment [™ Elton John] I have always been a huge believer in the value and importance of empathy.

Part of this is because my Mum always told me to be interested in what others are interested in, but as I got more and more into my planning career, I realised that if you can truly understand the feelings and emotions someone is experiencing, it enables you to make work that others will also feel and resonate with.

A perfect example was this work we did ages ago for Nike in China.

It had already been decided the idea for the global 2012 Olympics Campaign was going to be Greatness. The problem was that when we spoke to kids all over China, they didn’t feel they were ever able to refer to themselves as great.

They felt that was a term saved for the chosen few. The people who the government deemed as having done things that raised the entire nations profile and success.

Of course they didn’t articulate it like this … we got there by spending time with them and slowly pulling away the layers of codes and confusion so we could understand what they wanted to say rather than what was being said.

Or said another way, we wanted to understand rather than get answers.

Now I am not denying it took a while … and I also accept being an Olympic campaign, we had the time and the money to do things right. But the thing is this rigour was worth it … because not only did it turn into an incredible campaign … not only did it become China’s most successful ever campaign … it helped changed attitudes towards what greatness is and allowed millions of kids to feel they could feel valued and valuable.

This is the work.

The reason I say this is because for the past few months, I’ve been working with The University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project in exploring new ways to use creativity to engage and deeply resonate with audiences.

Thanks to the work of Sir Richard Faull, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland and Nuala Gregory, a fellow of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries – also at The University of Auckland – we have explored and experimented with a whole host of different creative formats to identify which one can create the best conditions for connection.

The findings have been astounding.

While the vast majority of communication spend goes towards television, digital and outdoor advertising … none of these had the same impact on audiences as the power of the poem.

In fact, when poems were used as the content for television, digital and outdoor, the increase in engagement went up on average 13.3%.

THIRTEEN!

OK, I know that may not sound a lot on first impression, but when you consider last year, companies spent SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIVE BILLION DOLLARS GLOBALLY on advertising … if this can improve connection to potential audiences by 13%, then it has huge commercial opportunity.

[And by that, I mean for brands, creativity and the University of Auckland]

Now I suppose on one level, none of this should be a surprise.

Rap is a kind of poetry.

A way to communicate that’s felt as well as heard.

But while we have started to explore this, our focus has been on poetry and the results, as I detailed above, have been fascinating.

Sir Richard believes this may be heavily influenced by the challenges the World has faced over the past few years. Where the feeling of isolation of helplessness has created an yearning for any sort of emotional connection. And while TV may have their manifestos, they often come over as contrived … whereas poems have a fragility to them that enables them to better resonate and connect to audiences.

For example … of the literally thousands of poems tested, this was one that achieved one of the highest scores, despite being from an anonymous author.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders
But through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

While it is deliberately ambiguous, it appeared to connect to audiences as they saw it as capturing the struggles they felt in life. Where there is still an expectation for progress and yet the conditions people find themselves having to deal with are increasingly harsh and difficult.

Other poems that resonated – and follow a similar theme to the previous example, except it is by contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong – include this:

And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way

As well as a piece from his work entitled ‘Life’, which has a much darker theme:

Loneliness is my hiding place
Breast feeding my self
What more can I say?
I have swallowed the bitter pill

We are still working on the research but have set up an instagram that lists the poems that have tested particularly well.

I would love it if you could visit the page and let me know how the poems affect you. If they do.

Now I appreciate this leaves me open to all sorts of ridicule.

And I assure you that I am not trying to suggest poems are the future of effective advertising.

This is simply a project to see if there are techniques that allow us to better connect emotionally to audiences without necessarily needing to spend months in the field meeting endless people.

While I am part of this work, it is ultimately the property of Auckland University.

Fortunately, they have said I can promote the work because they would love to have more respondents take part. So if you are interested in discovering more – and helping see where this creative adventure could lead, can I ask you to sign up here.

That said, I would recommend you do it today … because studies have found April 1st is the optimal day to get people to sign up to ‘research’ that is actually just some 80’s song lyrics from Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses and Queen.

Have a great day. I know I will.



When Forest Were Great And Football Ads Were Poor …

Once upon a time, Nottingham Forest were magic.

So magic, they were Kings of Europe. Twice in a row.

So magic, they had a song about it.

So magic, Adidas used them as proof of their football credentials in ads …

That team was amazing.

I even remember those boots.

But I must admit I don’t remember Adidas being the ‘science of sport’ – even though that is the most German sport tagline ever written – all I remember is that at my school, Adidas stood for All Day I Dream About Sex”.

Even though I probably didn’t even know what sex was back then,.

And while I still find it hard to accept my beloved team wore the football gear of the enemy – though I did try to get NIKE to sponsor them, once even including it as a recommendation in a strategy deck which was met by howling laughter – I accept it is nice to see at least one international brand recognised their incredible achievements.

But for all that, Adidas – and Nottingham Forest – will never beat Nike for this.

Still the best World Cup spot. Ever.

Unlikely ever to be beaten.

And trust me, we tried. Hard.

Which maybe says more about what clients want these days than creative ambition.

Maybe,



Accidental Legacies …

A few weeks ago, I read this:

It was said by Susan Ann Sulley, one of the singers in The Human League about their iconic song, ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

I have to admit, it has absolutely captivated me.

From the acknowledgement there was a real chance they could have put sleigh bells on the song if they thought it would chart over Christmas – which would have immediately made the song a novelty record rather than one of pop’s true classics – to her statement of simply being ‘an ordinary girl, doing her best’.

The level of honesty featured in those few lines is both breath-taking and disarming … especially given it comes from someone from within an industry that loves to big-talk itself, even when they haven’t had a Worldwide hit like Susan has.

To be honest, this openness is reflected in the entire article – which reinforces some ‘no nonsense’ Northern stereotype that adland likes to communicate over and over again.

But there’s something else I like about it …

Because while rigour and planning definitely increase the odds of success, the uncomfortable truth for all those companies, consultancies and self-anointed marketing masters who claim to have proprietary processes that ‘guarantee success’ is the legends, legacies and icons of culture owe far more of their good fortune to the beauty of happy accidents than an obsessive focus on the perfection of a process.

Said another way, they leave space for chaos rather than try to remove it.

I get it may sound counter-productive, but as Martin and I said way back in 2019 … chaos creates what order can’t.