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

It’s Only Classic If It Evolves …

So the cosmetic empire, Revlon, has gone bankrupt.

It’s a brand I remember from my youth with their big ads featuring big stars selling big statements.

But like Woolworths of old [how’s that for a linkage] they thought that was enough.

They thought they were enough.

But tastes change.


Hell, in just the past few years we’ve seen all manner of movements in the cosmetics space … from the nude look to the pastel and playful, both leveraged by brands like Maybelline and Glossier.

And then there’s Fenty …

Who came in and offered a foundation that had varieties specifically for African American skin as well as white – which shouldn’t be a surprise until you realise that until then, all major cosmetic companies excluded African American skin and expected them to use a foundation designed for white customers.

Seriously, what the fuck.

Of course, the success of Fenty saw many of the big players try to follow suit … but when actively you’ve ignored millions for 60+ years, you’re not going to convince them you suddenly care.

Which comes back to Revlon.

Who forgot the way you build a brand is not by communicating yourself over and over again, but doing things that earn loyalty.

Or at least prove you are working for it.

So many companies forget that. Either spending millions on what they want to say or ‘innovating’ with things that are what they want people to care about, rather than the things people care about.

It’s amazing how many brands fall for this.

But then, ego has that effect on people.

Causing them to place boundaries and blinkers around the comments that scream what people want you to do better at. What they want you to change.

But instead, companies choose to maximise short-term opportunities, rather than build things for the future. I get it … it costs a lot and there’s the argument it risks a lot.

Except it doesn’t cost or risk anything near what happens if you don’t do it.

And playing catch up never works because when you finally follow suit, you find out the others have already moved on.

Even the companies that promise ‘disruption’ never really go all in.

Often just focusing on one element the establishment do wrong rather than reimagining how they could completely evolve an entire category.

Function over benefits.

Product over brand.

That said, there are some out there who do it right.

Not just in the ‘cool’ categories, but in things like finance, health and paint.

Yes, paint!!!

Doing things where it shows they are truly watching and listening to culture.

Not just in what they want, but what is affecting who they are.

Once upon a time this was the norm. Now it’s all about promoting the condiments rather than focusing on the steak.

And while that can work in the short-term … giving you a few PR headlines you can leverage in the press … the brands who count succeed because they perpetually evolve culture – or evolve with the leading edge of it – rather than just keep them where they already are.

Designed For Disaster …

Over the years, I’ve written many an ode to design.

Not just because Jill is a designer, but because I believe the discipline has demonstrated its power to create change of cultural opinion and behaviour to a much greater extent than the ad industry has achieved.

From making sound, visualpasta, stylish … to a nations pain, united … it has consistently found ways to answer problems that deeply connect to our soul.

Hell, they even found ways to encourage inclusivity that doesn’t make bigots and Tories scream we’re in a world of woke.


What has been interesting how been seeing how national symbolism is increasingly being brought into design.

Of course this shouldn’t be a surprise because we’re living in a much more nationalistic World.

And while being proud of where you come from is a good thing, this is less about that.

What we’re seeing more of is jingoism dressed up as patriotism.

Politically ignited racism and prejudice, disguised as heritage and protection.

It’s pretty blatant.

Now don’t get me wrong … I’m definitely not saying any design that incorporates nationalism means it’s for a racist company.

Nor am I saying any company who celebrates a ‘born here’ message is prejudice.

But I am saying that if you’re going to do it, you better do it well because not only can it have big implications on how you’re perceived … you can end up making yourself look the least inviting company in the country.

Which is my insanely long-winded way of posting this logo from a company just down from our office.

Honestly, I don’t know if I should be impressed or horrified.

But I definitely can’t stop looking at it.

And while some would say, “well that’s a good thing”, I can assure you, it’s definitely not.

I find it amazing they value highlighting they’re a NZ company more than a good hair transplant company.

I mean, look at it?

It’s fucking horrific.

It makes them look the poundland of hair ‘restoration’.

I also should point out I didn’t find this company – my wonderful colleague Henry did, and he’s blessed with beautiful locks – so don’t think I’ve suddenly decided I want a full head of hair.

I know how much you’d love that so you could take the piss out of me, but sadly – for you – that dream is not going to be answered.

So all there is left for me to say is this.

Design. It’s amazing. But pay for a good one or you may end up looking like a bald man in a badly fitting, badly made wig.

Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough …

I’m seeing a lot of work these days that feels like it’s been designed to band-aid a problem rather than actually solve the problem.

Or said another way … does what the client wants not what is needed.

And while I appreciate why that may be seen as an easy win, it’s the opposite.

Because doing stuff clients want, means little if it bores the hell out the audience.

Where they ignore it, overlook it, don’t believe it, makes them feel the only thing the brand cares about is the audience’s cash.

And I know some will say I’m being unrealistic … naive … ignoring the realities of business … but my response to that would be that my whole career has been working with brands who believe in continually earning their audience rather than just expecting it.

And by earning it, I mean investing in it.

Not doing good enough, but respecting who they’re doing it for.

Sweating the details. Knowing how their audience live and think, not just how they use or choose their product. Pushing standards rather than mirroring category best practice. Doing things for the audience rather than just about them. Understanding the context they’re playing in, not blindly thinking they’re the most important thing. And proving they’re worth caring about, not just thinking they’re enough.

And while that might sound like a lot of effort, money and time … it’s the difference between being a brand that creates, defines and drives culture rather than is chasing it.

Like everyone else.

Which is why people who see this about creative indulgence are missing the point.

Because it’s not about creativity, it’s how creativity can drive the level of your ambition.

The Light Goes Out On Henry …
July 1, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Colenso, Comment, Creativity, New Zealand, Planners

Before I start, I need to acknowledge it’s the luckiest cat in the World’s 15th birthday today.

She may use me, mock me and begrudge me – but I love her.

So happy birthday Rosie, I look forward to hearing your complaints when I get home.

OK, so let me begin this post by saying that Henry is alive and well.

I know that subject line makes it sound like he’s died, but it just worked with the photo at the top of this post.

I know … I know …

Anyway, today is a bittersweet day for me … the Colenso planning department and Colenso as a whole … because gorgeous Henry leaves us.

Actually, he’s doing more than that, he’s leaving the industry.

I’m going to ignore that a little over a year from me joining, he’s off. I’m going to forget he has loved Colenso for years and left Adam & Eve in London to come here. I’m going to forget all that and put it down to him supporting Huddersfield Town and being devastated his [ex] boss is a Nottingham Forest fan who saw them beat his team in the play-off final to the Premiership.

Yeah, that’s it … must be.

OK … OK … it’s not, but even with the forced clarity of reality, it’s still hugely important we celebrate that this wonderful strategist is going on a career adventure.

Career adventures are often devalued.

Seen as walking away from the foundations you have built.

But that’s bollocks on so many levels … especially when you’re a planner who can use many of their skills in new ways with new industries.

Sure, it’s sad for us that Henry wants to explore, but the reality is I’m also very happy for him, for two simple reasons …

1. He’s going to test and stretch his talent in new ways, which is awesome.

2. Whatever way you look at it, Henry is brilliant.

In fact, Henry is so brilliant he was a big part I took the job.

When I was chatting to Colenso, I got to meet Henry and we had many chats and I immediately was taken by his brains, character and chops.

Yes he’s obsessed with war facts and puts the ‘hype’ in hypochondriac … but he’s also caring, compassionate, diligent, smart and a real leader.

That last one is particularly important as it is banded about a lot in this industry … but where Henry is concerned, it’s the perfect description.

He cares about others.
He wants the best for others.
He supports others in their quests and goals.
He leads by example in all he does.

That last one is the difference.

Anyone can say they care, but the true test of integrity is how you operate … both in the shadows and in the spotlight.

Henry is so honourable he even paid me back the $8000 I accidentally sent him when I was a fucking idiot …

OK, that bit may show he is prone to stupidity, but you get what I mean.

All this is my way of saying that today we lose a special human, not just a great strategist.

And while – from a personal perspective – I wish he wasn’t going and I’ll miss him like hell … I am proud and excited for him.

I’ve written a lot how I believe the role of a boss is to help your people see, seize and be seen for opportunities they may otherwise not consider a possibility. And while in Henry’s case, I had nothing to do with it, I still feel a thrill that he’s off to explore what he can become.

Of course I’m in no doubt he will be brilliant, but I hope once he realises it, he see’s this next step as simply the beginning of many more – and bigger – steps. Taking him to places far beyond where he is and where he is going.

I hope he understands that.

I’ll make sure he can’t forget it.

So to you Henry …

It’s been a pleasure and honour to have you in my life.

Not just professionally, but personally.

Thank you for everything … you helped this agency and department in ways that will be felt and remembered for a very long time.

But not as long as you’ll be remembered for the person you are.

Go be brilliant but please don’t talk ‘war facts’ till at least week 4.

The Beginning Of The End Or The End Of The Beginning?

I cannot believe it is the end of June.

How did that happen so fast?

The problem with the year going so quickly is that so is my mortality.

When you’re in your thirties or forties … hearing someone has died at 73 seems centuries away, but when you’ve just turned 52, it seems like a week.

I’ve written how much turning 50 has affected me before.

From looking wistfully at photos of people who look a bit like my son, albeit much older … through to how much I love my wife … to finally appreciating a good garden … to talking about my career.

The reality is, if you’re still in adland at my age – or probably any industry – you definitely feel you’re approaching the end of your journey.

And you are …

That doesn’t mean you don’t have a shit-ton to offer or that you’re not doing exciting work … the reality is the industry has always valued ‘new’ over experience – or even creativity for that matter – so it’s just how it goes.

However from a pure ego perspective, it can still sting a little … especially when many of the people getting the acclaim have not done anything of note, other than play the self-publicity game very, very well.

Repeatedly shouting their reframed arguments, judgement on others work or modern takes on old behaviours and then – just as you’re about to turn into a bitter bastard – you realise that’s probably what the previous generation of adfolk thought about you and your mouth – and suddenly things look very different.

And as much as that revelation is a metaphorical kick in the face brings, it also is pretty liberating.

Because while it’s nice to be noticed – and there’s some people out there doing things that truly deserve to be because they’re trying to take the possibilities of creativity to new places, from POCC to Ivy Huang at Tencent to Mr Hoon Kim at Gentle Monster [and I know I’m biased given he’s a client of mine] to the usual suspects like Nils etc to name but a few – the reality is not being defined by your job or your title or your employer is far better for your health, happiness and creativity … and yet that is the opposite of what the industry promotes.

Your value is based on your title.
Your talent is linked to who you work for.
Your reputation is decided by how well known you are rather than what you’ve done.

I get it. I felt that way for a time. But it’s also a bit insane.
I cannot tell you how differently people listened to what I said when I was at Wieden than when I was at Cynic, despite that on many occasions, I was saying EXACTLY the same thing. It happens now with Metallica. People who wouldn’t give me the time of day before suddenly think what I spout has value because some heavy metal musicians treat me as their cat litter tray. But the reality is success is as much down to good fortune as it is talent – even though talent is still very important – so to play to what you think someone wants you to be rather than who you actually are only ends up undermining you.

You may not realise that till later, but at one point you’ll look in the mirror and know.

Let’s be honest, turning 52 is pretty pants.

Even more so when you find a photo of yourself at 22.

Yep, that’s really me … from my passport photo.

Hair, youth and serial killer stare.

But at 52 you ache.
You look older than god.
And you’re made to feel the industry you’ve pretty much given your working life to, is trying to leave you behind purely based on your age.

And despite me having so much fun and doing so much exciting stuff with bands, I still adore adland.

I may not like where it is going or what it now values, but it’s given – and continues to give me – so much and I’ll always be grateful for that.

And while my time in the industry is different to what it once was, it still gives me so much … with the latest gift being the realisation their issue with older people is their problem not mine.