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


Creativity Creates Value …

A few weeks ago I was asked to talk to a board of directors about creativity in business. Specifically, how they could encourage more of it.

I showed them this:

I had seen this image on Twitter and fell in love with it.

Yes, it’s a small thing, but it’s an important one.

Alright … before I go over the top, I do appreciate it’s simply a napkin holder with some words printed on it and there’s millions of companies that offer that.

But instead of just putting their company name on it – or NAPKINS in big letters – someone at this shop saw the opportunity to use them to add charm and value to their brand and product.

Hell, I’ve seen 3 minute TV commercials that can’t achieve that.

And all it took was 4 words.

Four words to turn a lowly napkin into a Donut Evidence Removal Kit. A Donut Evidence Removal Kit that celebrates the deliciousness of their food. That acknowledges what you’ve just eaten is definitely on the naughty side of indulgence.

FOUR WORDS.

ON A NAPKIN DISPENSER.

And yet it all comes together to convey a ridiculous amount of cheeky charm for a shop that, whatever way you look at it, simply sells fried dough.

So don’t tell me creativity doesn’t add value or drive business.

It can make more of a claim for effectiveness than logic ever will.



Money Can Buy Tickets, But It Can’t Buy Respect …

Like most things in life, there tends to be 2 sorts of people.

Those who chase the cash.
Those who chase their passion.

Or said another way, the business folks and the creative folks.

But one thing I’ve learned from working with a number of highly successful bands over the last few years is this.

Those who chase cash can be hugely financially successful, but they’ll never achieve the level of creative respect those who chase their passion will receive.

Now you may go, “who cares, they’re rich”.

But here’s the thing …

People who chase their passion can end up being even more financially successful than those who simply chase the cash.

Sure, it doesn’t happen often, but it also happens more than you may imagine. And when it does, that’s when things get really interesting.

I’m working on a project for a band [not Metallica] that is – quite simply – bonkers.

Not just bonkers in terms of what they want to do, but why they want to do it.

And why do they want to do it?

Because they their die-hard fans to be properly rewarded for their die-hard loyalty.

I don’t mean that in terms of getting early access to something they have to pay for – which is the way many companies think loyalty works. I mean rewarding them with something that has real – and long term – economic and emotional value to them.

Obviously I can’t go into specifics … both for the fact I’d be murdered and there’s still a fuck-ton of hurdles to be dealt if we stand any chance of pulling this off … but what I’ve loved seeing is how artists who have built their fortune as a byproduct of their passion [rather than just a focus on the cash] seem to reach a point where they kinda turn into a musical version of Robin Hood.

I should point out this does not mean they suddenly start doing things for free.

Nor do I mean they start giving all their money away.

There may do some of that but by then, they’ve finally learnt the value of their value.

No, what I mean is they put a lot of effort into ensuring their long-term fans feel the respect the artist has for them and all they’ve done for them … and one way they are increasingly doing this is by finding ways to ‘steal’ from the rich, so they can reward the loyal.

Case in point.

Billy Joel.

In 2014 he started a residency at Madison Square Gardens and vowed to keep playing there once a month until his concerts stop selling out.

Well, he’s still playing … and given he allegedly makes US$3-4 million per show, it’s proven to be an incredible relationship.

But this is where it gets fun …

You see Billy Joel no longer allows the first row of the venue to have people sitting in it.

There are 2 main reasons for this.

1. It stops scalpers from making huge money off him.

2. He hated looking down and seeing rich people looking back at him. Not really into the evening, just there because they could afford the seats and could brag about it to their friends.

So instead, every time he plays, he gets his crew to find fans who are sitting in the worst seats in the venue and gets them to bring them down and give them the best seats in the front row. People who are really happy to be there – not for the bragging rights – but for the chance to get the best view of an artists they love, singing the songs they adore.

In essence, he uses the wealth of the uber-rich to pay for the seats for the real fans.

Giving them the night of their life and letting Billy show that money can buy lots of things, but it can’t buy the respect he has for his true fans.

Now before anyone slags this post … or Billy off.

While I appreciate what he’s doing is not perfect … it’s more considerate, respectful and loyal than 95% of companies who talk a great game in terms of their customers/employees being their greatest asset right until the point it actually might result in costing them more than they want to spend.

Which is why I’d rather be loyal to a kinda musical version of Robin Hood than a smiling snake.

And before I go, I just want to leave you with my favourite little film about Metallica.

Unlike the Billy Joel story, this is not about repaying fan loyalty – at least not in the way I’ve just described how Billy Joel has. This is more about the sentimentality the band has for people and places that they believe has had a significant impact on the life of the band.

I’ve written about this before, but whereas that was about their ongoing relationship with Cliff Burton’s father … this is about one of James’ guitars.

That might not sound enticing, but I assure you it is.

Because while this film talks about where this guitar came from … what it represents and how it was crafted to have even greater meaning and significance to James and the band … it’s really a story of loyalty, legacy and love.

Enjoy. They’ve come a loooooooong way since Some Kind Of Monster, ha.




I’m One Of The Top Ten Leaders Of The Year …

No, the title of that post is not wrong.

I have recently been informed that I’ve been named one of the top 10 leaders of 2021.

How good is that?

I cannot tell you how happy and proud I am at receiving this accolade.

Unfortunately, it’s for an industry I don’t work in … by a ‘magazine’ I’ve never heard of … with an award that no one cares about.

That’s right … it’s another one of those dodgy awards, like the ones we used to get for cynic, despite the company having closed – where someone who describes themselves as a ‘magazine editor’ then asks for money so they can feature the accolade they bestowed on you, in their own magazine.

So basically it’s a scam.

But beggars can’t be choosers – especially when your iPhone tells you each of your passwords has been involved in countless data breaches – so I felt I should honour the accolade by writing back to the magazine with this …

_________________________________________________________________________

“What an email to receive.

I cannot tell you what this means to me. I have already ordered all my stationary to be updated to include this accolade.

Please can you tell me what happens next?

Do you fly me to wherever you are to pick it up?

Will you cover flight and hotel costs?

Can I bring my family?

Can I approach security companies with an offer of me being a social media influencer?

I may be in security but you have stolen my heart with this news.

Thank you, thank you, thank you … I cannot wait to hear more”.

_________________________________________________________________________

So far, I’ve heard nothing.

But I have my fingers crossed.



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.



Wanted. Liars With Straight Faces …

The industry likes to talk a lot about purpose.
The supposedly unwavering commitment to its higher purpose, even if it only turns up in marketing.

It likes to talk about agility.

The ability for a company to change focus to maximise opportunities even, if often it’s done to hide a lack of strategy.

And let’s not forget pivoting.

The ability to shift from one area of expertise to another, even if the reality is its because you need to survive rather than you are forward thinking.

Now of course, there are some companies who have purpose, agility and an ability to pivot without using it as an excuse to hide their shortcomings. Companies who have embodied and expressed all these traits, often before it became another marketing or business buzzword.

Or – in the case of pivoting – there are some companies who openly admit why they did it. That if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist any longer. Netflix for example.

But there’s some organisations who see the writing on the wall, but ‘pivot’ to such an extent that they literally show themselves for the lying, cheating, manipulative organization they have always been.

The best example of this I’ve possibly ever seen is cancer champion – Philip Morris.

You see the tobacco company has decided that their core cash cow doesn’t have the same profitable future as it once did so have decided – to loud fanfare – to pivot.

“What to?” I hear you ask?

Hold on to your hats, because it’s a Health and Wellness company.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

No, that’s not a joke … well, it is, but they don’t mean it to be.

Yep, Phillip Morris – owners of brands including Marlboro are supposedly pivoting to a health and wellness company.

It’s the equivalent of the Trump Organisation becoming an international aid charity.

Or kids TV show, Playschool pivoting to a rival of Pornhub.

How can they say this with a straight face?

They’re even lobbying for a ban on cigarettes within 10 years.

This is worse than poacher turned keeper.

This is an attempt for death to turn doctor … conveniently ignoring all the shameful acts they undertook – and still undertake – to keep their tobacco business killing its customers.

Look I get they have to continue making money.

I get a lot of ‘health and wellness’ companies are as questionable as a cigarette company.

But come on …

Apart from their bullshit being utterly transparent and sickening … what about all the scientists and doctors they paid off, bullied and sued to keep their kill sticks in market.

Do they think they’re just going to nod and think, “hey, we won?”

Will there be a follow up to the Michael Mann movie, The Insider … where Russell Crowe spends 2 hours saying, “I was wrong, Philip Morris are lovely guys really and I forgive them for trying to crush and threaten my life.”

And that’s before we get to the scientists and doctors who work for Philip Morris who must be wondering how a company committed to tobacco can just expect them to change their focus to fixing the illnesses they helped cause in the first place.

But do you know what the sickest part of it all is?

The markets won’t care.

They won’t cast doubt or suspicion.

As long as they make money they will support them.

They’ll call them a poster child for ‘purpose’ and ‘wellbeing’.

It will see the CEO, Jacek Olczak, celebrated and revered by the business press.

It will see him earn millions from bonuses, consultancy and speaker engagements.

We’ll watch holding company CEO’s jostle for position.

We’ll see even more agencies pitching for their business.

We’ll read fawning editorial about their shift in industry magazines.

We’ll hear strategists talk about them as proof of the power of pivoting.

And it will make me hate even more people for the willingness to support hypocrisy for profit.

Philip Morris. You can say you are a health and wellness company, but we all know the only health and wellness you have ever cared about is your own bank balance.