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


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.

Incredible.

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.



The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Neon …

One of the things I’ve found fascinating over the past few years is watching consultancies AND platforms mock the value of advertising and then increasingly try and enter that space.

And while you could argue it’s because they saw an opportunity to do it ‘properly’, the way they have embraced it – and executed it – has shown they seem to want to be more like the beast they wanted to slay than the beast they are.

What do I mean?

Go to Cannes and the whole place has been taken over by corporations.

All the best locations, beaches, hotels are the domain of tech, consultancies and platforms.

Now you could say that’s because they’re the ones with all the money – and that’s true – but what is amusing is WHAT they do.

Because rather than reflect ‘a better way to do what those ad agencies used to do’ … they seem to be doing the same thing ad agencies used to do.

Parties.
Give-aways.
Celebrity talks.
Expensive dinners.

In fact the only thing that is different is how desperately bad their attempts to show ‘they’re creativity’ actually are.

Nothing brought this home more than a poster I recently saw promoting an advertising festival.

An advertising festival representing the ‘modern’ world of the industry.

This was it …

What. The. Hell?

Seriously … what is it?

I’m not just talking about the design and colour palette that could make a 1987 acid house party feel embarrassed … I’m talking about all of it.

The email automation masterclass.

The ‘scale your YouTube’ talk.

The $15 million ad storytelling formula class.

And let’s not forget the ‘thumb-stopping’ direct response scripts.

Look, I get small business may get something out of some of this.

And I appreciate there are many elements to run a successful business.

But this all comes across as used car salesman shit.

Worse, used car salesman shit where their office is a portacabin on a muddy industrial estate in Slough.

In all seriousness, what I find astounding is this must be what the people behind this conference must think is creativity. And don’t get me started on what it says about the people presenting there.

I include Scott Galloway who said ‘brands are dead’ and then not only invests in elevating his own brand, but starts selling courses on how to approach better brand strategy.

[For the record, I respect Scott Galloway hugely but when he said that – like when Mark Ritson said his advertising course was a ‘mini MBA’, when it is nothing at all like a MBA – I couldn’t help but feel their focus was becoming more about building their own cult than building better marketers. In fact, given their approaches have now been so optimised, systemised and codified … you could argue it’s actually undermining brand building because everyone is following the same approach and the result is passive corporate conformity. But I digress …]

I guess what I’m saying is that for all the smarts of modern marketing, the people behind this conference – and potentially the people at it – are revealing they know jack-shit about creativity or culture.

And you know what? That would be fine if they didn’t pretend they otherwise.

But for all their big Cannes events … agency buy-outs … and talk about advertising, the reality is they view creativity as a ‘wrapper’ for their engineering type processes.

A belief there is a singular approach to engage and grow – regardless of audience or category. That the features around a brand are more important than the brand. Or as I told WARC, that the condiments are more valuable than the steak.

Do not get me wrong, advertising has a lot of problems.

It’s got a lot it can learn from platforms and consultancies.

But at our best, we know how to use the power of creativity and culture in ways so many of thehaven’t got a clue about.

Now some may say that statement shows how out of date I am.

How contemporary business doesn’t care about all that.

And maybe that’s right … but while I could point out the vast majority of brands who are infectious to culture were not born anywhere near a ‘consultants proprietary marketing playbook’ … all I have to do is point at the AdWorld poster and say, “Look at that shit”.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there will be a bunch of valuable stuff at the conference.

I am sure it will attract tens of thousands of people.

It may make the organisers a shit-ton of cash.

But for all the smarts appearing at Adworld, they sure as shit don’t have any appreciation of style. And I would like to point out that I say this as someone who was wearing an ironic Celine Dion T-shirt when I typed this.

And with that, I wish you a good weekend … which only gets better for you when I let you know there is a national holiday here on Monday so there will be no post till Tuesday [I know, I just had 2 days off for national holiday – deal with it] … so with that, I leave you with a sneak-peak of the Adworld virtual after party dance floor.



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.



A Reminder Of The Power Of Creativity …

Creativity is getting a bit of a kicking these days.

Oh, people talk about it.

They wax on about how valuable it is.

But then they dictate a ‘formula’ … something they say ‘optimises’ effectiveness and efficiency … conveniently ignoring they are actually promoting the total opposite of what creativity is and how it works.

Complicity.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided the value of creativity is not related to output at all … just input.

Now there is truth to that, creativity definitely starts with the mind, however that never includes an endless list of superfluous and superficial mandatories followed by dictatorial demands regarding terminology, talent and ‘category codes’.

You don’t liberate the power of creativity by weighing it down with factors that – at best – can come much later in the process.

And yet it is happening more and more.

Where success is people knowing your name and your corporate colours.

It doesn’t matter if they like you or feel something about you, it’s all function attribution.

And that blows my mind because creativity is capable of incredible things.

Making people care.
Creating value and intrigue.
Driving change and differentiation.
Literally open up possibilities that make people want you rather than you having to chase them down or brainwash them into submission with millions of dollars of spend.

That all these possible outputs are being dismissed in favour of following a pre-determined process and output blows my mind.

Of course one of the big reasons for this is control.

Creativity asks people to let go of comfort zones.

Asks them to be open to new ways to solve old problems.

Demands them to trust someone who isn’t at all like them.

I get it, that’s scary and hard … and there’s definitely a lot of people and organisations who have been burnt by other people and organisations who claimed to offer ‘creativity’ but weren’t really that creative.

[Though it you’re going to value creativity by price point or complicity rather than the impact it has on your business … what do you expect?]

However while everyone has some form of creativity, there are some who know how to harness its power in ways that can change how millions think or feel or want to live.

Sure that may include your brand becoming synonymous with a colour.

Or a set of words.

But it will be more than that, because they will find a way where people value you for what you have added to their world.

Not simply functionally … but how they see and feel what’s around and possible.

And while there is always a risk it might not end up quite as successful as you hope, it is still better to end up with something that means everything to someone rather than nothing to everyone.

That said, when you see the possibilities of creativity – like this magical mural by Brazilian artist Fabio Gomes – then you may accept people who see the World differently to you can create ideas that are far bigger and more powerful than your World could ever imagine.



The Illusion Of Sustainability …

A few weeks ago, I got a take-away coffee where the design of the cup was obviously trying to look like it had a ‘heat sleeve’ around it.

I get it …

By reducing the use of paper/cardboard, we minimise waste.

There were just 2 problems with this.

1. It isn’t a heat sleeve.

2. You end up burning your hand around the cup.

Now while I appreciate this is still better than claiming to be doing something for the environment while actively fucking it, it’s still not perfect, even if I acknowledge their thinking.

But then a few days later I saw this …

OK, so it also has flaws.

Will you remember to bring back the mug?

Will you be able to drink out of it while you’re walking?

Will you feel comfortable it has been washed previously?

But weirdly I also like it.

I like it a lot.

Maybe it’s because it’s the sort of thing only a community would try to pull off and – after years of living here, there and everywhere, it’s nice to feel part of something.

But either way, it’s got my vote … which serves as a good reminder that the real obstacle to doing something good is whether you actually want to do it or not.

And no Uniliever … that doesn’t let you feel good for producing plant bottles, especially when you continue to profit from the cultural jail and prejudice you put millions of women throughout Asia in. You’re welcome.