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


When Life Gives You Angostura, Make A Cocktail …

Recently I read the story behind Angostura’s strange bottle.

For those of you who don’t know what Angostura is, it’s a bitters used in cocktails.

For those of you who don’t know what is strange about their bottle, it’s this:

Yep, that’s their normal product.

A bottle, hidden inside fucking massive packing.

The story – as told by Abraham Piper – is the business was taken over by the founder’s sons in 1870.

To help grow its awareness, they decided to update the ‘look’ and enter the finished product into a competition in the hope the exposure would drive the business.

They didn’t have much time so to maximise efficiency, one brother designed the label and the other, the bottle.

One slight problem … they didn’t discuss the size.

Another slight problem … they didn’t realise until they brought both sides of their work together and by then, they didn’t have enough time to alter things before the competition was due to commence.

So they decided to enter it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, they lost.

Except one of the judges told them they should keep it exactly as it was because no one else was going to be stupid enough to make that sort of mistake … which means it was unique and would stand out.

So they did.

And that dumbass mistake – the sort of dumbass mistake that captures Dan Wieden’s classic Fail Harder philosophy, perfectly – was the foundation of a business that continues to evolve and grow to this day.

Now there is a chance this is not true.

They don’t mention it in their history timeline on their website for example.

But history is littered with happy accidents … from making Ice Cream to making Number 1 hit records … so there’s just as much chance it is.

And if that is the case, I’d bloody love it.

Because in this world where everything is researched to within an inch of its life, the products/brands that gain a real and powerful role and position in culture – not to mention whatever category they operate in – are increasingly the ones who keep the chaos in, rather than actively try to filter it out.

Whether that’s because they know it’s better to mean everything to someone rather than something to everyone is anyone’s guess. There’s a good chance they’re just lucky-accident dumbasses. Or they might understand the value of resonating with culture, rather than being relevant to the category.

Whatever it is …

The brands with the strongest brand attribution, assets and audience are increasingly the ones who never have to talk about it, let alone spend their marketing dollars trying to create it.

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Don’t Let Their Lack Of Achievement Undermine Yours …

A few weeks ago I did a presentation to a bunch of advertising students in London.

While I enjoy this sort of thing, I also appreciate I’m a ‘senior’ old white man … so I’m very conscious of the privilege I have – and had – throughout my career.

With that in mind, I wanted to ensure whatever I said was about as usable as it could get … regardless of where you come from, what you do or whether you lived in London, Liverpool or Lima.

Note I said ‘usable’, because sadly – for all the talk the industry goes on about with D&I policies – there still remains prejudice, whether conscious or not.

So in the end, my talk consisted of 3 slides … of which the one below was not only the most well received, but probably the most important.

Despite the headwinds it faces, this industry can be great.

It has a wide range of brilliant, talented, creative people.

Unfortunately it also has a bunch of bitter and jaded, self-appointed ‘gods’.

People who have achieved a level of ‘industry fame’ based on what they say, rather than what they’ve done. And by that, I mean what they’ve said on Twitter. Yet despite this, they seem to believe it has elevated them to a level of ‘sage’, that means the entire industry exists to impress them.

Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion.

And all experience is experience.

But if you’re starting out, you’re incredibly vulnerable to ‘experienced people’s’ judgement and that can have the effect of either conforming you to doing what they like or undermining your belief in relation to what you like.

Now don’t get me wrong, having your work – and eyes – opened to the views of people who have achieved at the highest level, is incredibly valuable to your growth and development.

But the emphasis is on highest level.

That’s not about someone’s job title.

Not the length of their employment.

But what they have created.

That’s literally it.

And while everyone thinks they have done stuff of note – and in their own way, they likely have – the reality is standards are a bit like Twitter. Your view of the world is in direct proportion to the people you follow … so while there are people on social media and industry blogs who have genuinely learned from the best and created the best, there’s a whole lot more people who have not. They just don’t realise it. Or their ego won’t accept it.

Again, that doesn’t mean they won’t offer some value, but it does mean their view is tainted by the limitation of the work they’ve actually created.

Which is why the best advice for anyone starting out in the industry is to do your homework.

Don’t like an agency or an individual for what they say or how popular they are.

Explore what they’ve actually done.

Was it a one off or has it been consistent?

Have they set standards or just followed others?

Do they push boundaries or just talk about doing it?

Have they done interesting stuff or just know interesting stuff?

This is an amazing industry. It can offer a huge amount. But if you want a career – a good career – you need to find and forge your own voice and you can’t do that if you let popularity silence your individuality or force their words into your mouth.

And that’s why if you face that, especially from people who have never done stuff that is creatively interesting – regardless of their title or experience – then there’s only one course of action to take.

Fuck ’em.

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Don’t Let Your Job Title Fool You Into Thinking You Have Respect …

One of the best pieces of advice I was taught was ‘always earn your right to be trusted’.

By that, they meant …

+ Lead by example.
+ Open doors for others to walk through.
+ Be fierce with maintaining standards.
+ Always protect, defend and grow your team.
+ Be transparent in your actions and interactions.
+ Encourage debate and independent thinking.
+ Create the conditions for everyones success.
+ Recognise the individual, not just the group.

That seems a lot of things doesn’t it, but that’s what real leadership is.

Or what I was taught it is.

Now whether I’m good at any of that is open to debate, but it definitely shaped my approach to things – even when I get it terribly wrong.

But my worry is a lot of people entering management today don’t get any advice whatsoever.

They’re plucked from being good in their job and told they now lead a team. Which basically sends out the message ‘do whatever it takes for the company to succeed, regardless of the cost’.

We’ve read the damage of this attitude in Corporate Gaslighting and yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

Of course a manager/leaders job is to do things for the benefit of the company they work for. But if they create an environment where the individual and the team can also succeed – not just financially, but in terms of growth, opportunity and possibility – it’s amazing how much everyone benefits.

But to do that well requires more that authority, but trust.

Trust you will lead them to somewhere better.
Trust you will look out for them not just yourself.
Trust in their opinion, not just your own.

The older I get, the less I see of this.

Instead of trust, companies put in hierarchy.

Where the expectation is to blindly follow what the more senior person demands.

I saw that when I lived in America … the most hierarchal place I’ve ever worked.

And while it may appear to work, it doesn’t really.

It either creates an echo-chamber of blinkered opinion – which is reframed as ‘company culture’ – or it relies on people who are in the terrible position of not having the choice to get out of where they are, with ease.

Which is why the other piece of advice I got – from my Dad – compliments what I said at the top of this post. Because if the goal of a manager or leader is to always earn trust from their team … then the role of the team is to “only respect authority that has been earned over time … not given, bought or provided by privilege or misinformation”.

It’s a lovely thought …

Proof not expectation.
Earned not just given.
Consistent not occasional.

It also explains why I must have been an absolute nightmare to the bosses I had who expected my loyalty rather than earned it. There weren’t many – thank god – but there were a few. And while I’m sure they were good people [probably], they definitely made the fatal error of thinking their job title demanded trustworthiness, when literally the opposite is true.

And with that, I’ll sign off with a link to an article I wrote for Little Black Book that sums this all up. It was – and remains so – one of the most valuable lessons and mistakes, I’ve ever had.

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Tone Deaf Truth And Complicity …

I’ve written a ton on brand purpose.

How it’s become meaningless and is just another tool for marketing mediocrity.

[This was the latest rant]

Well, recently I found an example of purpose that is undeniably true.

No, not Patagonia …

Mainly because this is not about a powerfully good purpose, more a purpose that is simply true to them.

Or should I say, to both of them.

Because it’s for KPMG – and, bizarrely, PWC.

Fuelling/Building Prosperity … I mean, come on.

Financial organisations who exist to generate riches … no fucking shit, Sherlock.

Of course, the cynic in me thinks what they’re actually trying to say is their purpose is to find ways to generate riches for themselves. Regardless of the cost.

Maybe if they had written it in a way that included WHY or HOW they fuelled/built prosperity, I’d be less of a bastard towards it… but because they didn’t, I now think they left it out on purpose so they can exploit financial opportunities for themselves and then say, “we never said we’d do it for you”.

Is this what purpose has now become?

Where you badly explain what you do and think that’s a higher order.

The lack of self-awareness is so bad that I almost want to advice them to go and spout some of the meaningless bollocks most other brands out there, shout.

That said, I kind of respect them for it.

Because as we’ve seen countless times before, what companies say about themselves and what they do are so far apart, it’s almost refreshing to have someone own their truth.

Even if it’s a truth that has the potential to repulse more than attract.

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The Fine Line Between Evil And Genius Media Planning …

A few weeks ago I saw something on twitter that has deeply conflicted me.

It was this …

That’s right, they’re lawn bowl mats … sponsored by Co-op Funerals.

Now I don’t know much about bowls.

I know they attract a much broader age of ‘player’ these days, but I’m still pretty sure the majority still are of the more elderly variety.

And given I’m 52, we’re talking proper old.

I could be wrong.

But given someone thought it was a good idea for Co-op funerals to sponsor the mat, it seems I may not be. And this is what has had me conflicted for weeks.

On one hand, it’s just fucking genius isn’t it.

Old people.
Funerals.
Chance to make arrangements before someone else has to.

But it’s also just a bit evil, isn’t it?

Old people.
Out enjoying themselves.
Message to remind them of their impending demise.

If I allowed comments, this is the sort of post where I know they would come into their own. But I don’t … which means I’ll be getting extra emails of commentary and abuse from the same people who used to do that on here.

And I don’t mind admitting I’m quite excited about that, And quite interested in what they’ll say.

Because I have the sneaky suspicion they may think it’s clever.

And that old people may find it both slightly amusing and kinda useful.

And that by doing something like this, it becomes a social media campaign by fact of it being infinitely shareable.

Or … they may say no one will give a shit because all it will be to them is a free mat so they can rest their knee as they try to destroy that prick from up the road who always seems to win.

But to whoever did this, I admire both your smarts and your mischief … because I haven’t seen something so perfect since [I think] Naked got their client – cheap meat in a can maker – Fray Bentos to sponsor some local Darts Players.

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