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


How To Stop The Smallest Minds In The Room Create The Biggest Headaches …

I recently read an article in the Guardian about the launch of the X-Box.

Given the brand has been part of gaming culture for the past 20 years, it’s easy to forget what an achievement this has been for Microsoft.

Let’s remember back then, the brand was far more synonymous with office computer programs than gaming … so to come from such a negative space and place to become the powerhouse it is today, is nothing short of incredible.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Sure, their cause was helped by SONY seemingly forgetting everything that had made the original PlayStation launch so successful … but even with that, Microsoft were still coming from pretty much a standing start.

It’s a great article that’s well worth the read, but there was one part that really stood out to me.

This:

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there …

Where someone chooses to ignore a statement of obviousness and instead, attempts to turn it around so you look like you’re making a potentially dangerous assumption.

Don’t get me wrong, we shouldn’t blindly assume common sense is common sense, and – without doubt – there’s been a lot of unsubstantiated assumptions that have ended up being the backbone of ideas and campaigns all around the World, but this sort of behaviour is nothing but an act of petty cowardice.

However, let’s assume for a moment the person who wanted proof that people did expect DVD quality to be better than the crunched-up shit that was on screen, was right.

Let’s assume that we didn’t know that DVD brands had been communicating ‘improved image quality’ to the general public for years.

Even if all that was true, the real issue was still not being addressed.

And that is facts doesn’t mean standards.

So rather than fall into a ‘fact inflation fight’ that no one was going to come out of well – even though I get why they were triggered – they should have asked Mr Petty if the image on the screen reflected the quality of product and performance he – and the company – wanted to globally be associated with?

Quickly followed up by enquiring whether Microsoft had the technology to dramatically improve the current standard of performance?

By doing this, they not only side-step the pointless barrier being placed in front of them and refocused the conversation to values, standards and ambition.

I’ve seen this situation happen so many times.

Where political point scoring derails ambition, potential and standards.

Where the company starts focusing on the ‘minimum viable product’ rather than what could drive the brands perception.

And while these situations have also seen me lose my shit – A LOT – I always remember my Dad telling me the real way to win these sorts of arguments, which is to elevate the discussion to reputational standards not down to petty point scoring.

He was brilliant at it.

Me? I’m still working on it.



The Fine Line Between Entrepreneur And Parasites …

By now, everyone will have heard about Squid Game.

It is – if not already – Netflix’s most watched show.

Ever.

There’s many planners who are writing ‘thought pieces’ on why this happened … but at the heart of it, it’s a greatly entertaining – and incredibly dark – story, with brilliant production values topped off with fantastic characters and acting.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been all manner of news stories coming out about the impact the show has had on broader culture … from sales of white, slip-on Vans – that feature in the show – going up 7800% right through to their instagram going up from 410,000 to 16 million in a matter of weeks.

That said, my favourite ‘proof of impact’ is this insta from one of the stars on the show:

But none of this is the point of this post, the point is related to the picture at the top of this post.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve just been seeing more and more brands – and agencies, specifically TBWA – exploiting the success of Squid Game for their own benefit.

Worse, the vast majority of these brands and agencies have absolutely nothing to do with the show – or Netflix – whatsoever.

Now I shouldn’t be surprised … this sort of thing has been going on for donkey’s years. However, whereas once ‘hijacking’ was a new and exciting way to get ahead of the pack and drive awareness and attention … this approach has now become so expected that any element of ‘surprise’ has gone.

In fact, the overall impact of this act is either seen as desperate or just ignored.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If people are willing to forgo their laziness for a second, they can look for ways where what they are ‘borrowing’ adds to the culture of the community rather than just stealing from it.

Better yet, they could collaborate with the people who actually created the idea and make something even bigger for culture to enjoy.

But that rarely happens because we live in an industry where speed is seen as being better than substance and stealing is viewed as being more valuable than building … and while there are short-term ‘benefits’ to that approach, all it does is continue to destroy the value of creativity … which is ironic, given all of these approaches are feeding off the power, value and influence of it.

There’s a saying that says ‘genius steals’.

While I know where it came from and what they were trying to say with it … it’s obvious that term is no longer valid.

Lazy pricks, steal.

While finding ways to help our work – and our clients needs – will always be important, if we want to be taken seriously, let’s be the creators, not the parasites..



Putting The Con In Icon …

I’ve talked a lot about how the industry loves to talk about innovation when what they actually mean is evolution.

Hell, sometimes it’s not even that … sometimes it’s just a new name for an old thought process or discipline that was expressed as part of what people always did rather than split out in an attempt to make more money or gain more influence.

I once said to the wonderful Martin Weigel that I am pretty certain marketing is the only industry that would make a paper plane and claim they invented flight.

Now that doesn’t mean people aren’t adding to what is being done … or bringing new thinking and craft to it … or finding new ways to incorporate it into work … but it does mean they’re trying to maybe ‘own’ too much of the narrative of the discipline. Suggesting they’re inventors when they’re actually craftspeople. Valuing ‘theory’ rather than actually making something truly interesting with it.

Now there’s many possible reasons for this.

+ We’re in marketing and so they’re marketing themselves.

+ Being a craftsperson has lost the value it deserves.

+ It’s cheaper to badge than to actually create.

+ People don’t know their history.

Now I’m sure I’m going to be accused of being a prick … an old, condescending prick. And maybe I am. But I am also not claiming I’ve invented anything and I’m just pointing out neither has many of the people who do.

And there’s nothing wrong with not inventing something … because doing your job really well is something worth celebrating, especially when you see what passes for ‘good’ in so much of what is put out these days.

But it appears the allure of pioneer is infectious these days.

Case in point is the talk around eco-systems, flywheels, multi-platform DTC/e-comm and the like. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, it driving new ways for brands to behave and earn. Yes, technology has allowed this to be done in more powerful and profound ways. But in many cases, it’s not revolution, it’s not really even innovation … it’s evolution.

And why do I say that? Have a look at this.

That is from 1957.

NINETEEN FIFTY SEVEN.

It’s Walt Disney’s ecosystem/flywheel/multi-platform DTC, e-comm [without the e] for the Disney corporation.

The blueprint for how he would use creativity to fuel his business in ways where every division is helping another division.

And while modern expressions of this have evolved and added more nuance, it’s not miles off, which is why whether you like/hate/respect/loathe him or the Disney Company, that’s pretty progressive thinking.

Or it was in 1957. in 2021 maybe not so much.

[Though, being honest, it probably is – which is even more worrying]

And yet we read so much from people acting like Walt Disney … except they’re not building their own brand, they’re selling their concept to build your own brand.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fuck, there’s a lot of value and money in that.

It’s genuinely exciting when you see someone identify opportunities in old approaches and habits that millions have missed. And for that, you should absolutely be using it to build a platform for your future success, growth and change.

I am literally cheering from the sidelines. All I ask is you please don’t act like you have invented flight when you’ve actually made a more efficient and effective paper plane. Not because I’m a bitter bastard – OK, let’s not go there – but because the future of this industry requires bigger leaps not better wrapping paper and the more we manage up our abilities, the more we lower the reality of our potential.

Christ, that’s a heavy post for a Monday isn’t it.

Given I know what the rest of the week has in store, it gets worse. Eek.



Stop Thinking Different Means Disaster …

For an industry that loves to talk about doing new things – chasing new things – it doesn’t half hate trying new things.

The moment someone dares suggest something different, more often than not, they are shouted down by people saying it’s wrong … it won’t work … it’s foolish.

Even before anything different has been tried.

Now I appreciate we live in a world where clients want effectiveness and so the margin for error is getting ever smaller, but no one who is suggesting something new has the objective of being less effective, literally the opposite.

But if we can’t explore then we can’t move forward and instead of blowing things up, it may be interesting if we started building things up.

I say all this because I recently read a quote from the Chairman of Crystal Palace football club.

This year they have adopted a totally new philosophy.

Not because the old one had failed – quite the opposite, in many ways it had exceeded expectation – but because context had changed [their long-term manager retired] and they thought this was the time to try something new.

And while some have immediately come out to say what they’re doing is utterly reckless to the stability of the club, their chairman – Steve Parish – countered it with this lovely perspective on the situation they have chosen to enter …

I love that. I love how he dismisses the validity of any criticism and simply focuses on the fact.

No one knows if Crystal Palace’s new approach is better or worse than what has gone before – at least not yet, and maybe not for a significant period of time – the only thing people do know is the approach is different.

Different.

Not better. Not worse.

A simple change to the usual approach.

A change that will reveal, in time, how effective it was. And even then, it is still only an indicator as there are so many external influences that may affect it.

But for a moment, imagine if it works.

Imagine if Crystal Palace do better than they ever have.

That they consistently elevate their standing and success?

It could happen. It stands as much chance as the opposite right now … and yet people are so quick to jump on the ‘disaster’ bandwagon.

Adland is exactly the same.

We like the idea of different but not the reality.

We choose to hide behind certainty and history, even if we didn’t have anything to do with the work we use to assert our argument. We grasp at learnings from other industries despite their context being vastly different. Or we state the fucking obvious but pretend it is an act of genius.

Maybe if stopped having the need to loudly proclaim something is right or wrong and just embrace the fact someone is doing somthing different, we may be more positive about change as an industry.

And maybe … just maybe … if more people focused on building things up rather than tearing them down, we may end up creating possibilities that encourages clients to embrace different rather than see it as an act of commercial defiance.



Listen To Yoda …

while back I read an interview with film director, voice of Yoda and countless muppets and expert puppeteer – Frank Oz.

It was a beautiful interview … a story of friendship, loyalty, creativity and compassion, so I urge you to read it … but there was one thing that really stood out to me and it was this:

Now it’s fair to say it’s no longer just corporate America who don’t understand the value of the things they’ve just bought. In some respects, we see it every day from clients who dictate and demand changes to a piece of creativity that an experienced professional has custom made for their specific situation … right through to companies who blame talent for circumstances and situations that they were directly complicit in creating and encouraging.

As I see it, the problem is three fold.

1. People judge output without any appreciation of how it happened.
2. People wildly overestimate their own talent.
3. It’s easier to look like you’re doing things than doing things.

None of these should be a surprise.

It’s why we tend to lavish our attention on individuals who are associated with ‘results’ rather than recognize the people around them who made it possible. It’s why we talk about wanting to follow similar paths to others but dismiss the pain, hardship and conflicts they endured to get there. It’s why companies build in-house creative departments without understanding the importance of objective viewpoints that lead to the work they want to replicate. It’s why people dismiss what others have done despite never having done anything of note themselves. It’s why companies talk about the importance of experience but see them as an expense. It’s why industries talk about D&I but don’t change the situations and contexts that make it an issue. It’s why companies talk about teams but have departments of exactly the same sort of people. It’s why companies become obsessed with proprietary processes even though the work and results it produces is nothing special. It’s why many consultants tell you what is wrong but never take responsibility for making it right. It’s why someone I once worked with on an airport project said – no word of a lie – “why don’t we push out the architects, because we could do a much better job”, despite the fact he wasn’t an architect and our role had little to do with it.

I could go on.

And on and on and on.

The reality is we’re all complicit in some way.

And the irony is if we learn to value what it takes to get the results we want – rather than simply focusing on the speed, power and control of ownership – then we’d all stand a much greater chance of achieving the things we want.

Or said as the wonderful Lee Hill once said to me …

Hire well.
Pay well.
Brief well.
Value well.
Trust well.

Have a good weekend.