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


Nothing is As Sharp As Simple …

I used to think it took a lot of hard work to be simple.

A lot of thinking.

Evaluating.

Sharpening.

Changing.

But maybe I was wrong because I literally cannot imagine how much time it took to create this:

It’s a masterclass in nonsensical.

A blueprint for showing a company who doesn’t know what they actually do.

A celebration of the buzzword bingo bullshit that permeates so many organisations.

Basically, imposters talking to imposters with words they’ve so bastardised the meaning of, that you’d be hard pressed to recognise their original definition if you were left alone with them in a bar overnight with only a dictionary for company.

The verbal equivalent of Mickey Rourke.

Or Lara Flynn Boyle.

Hence now …

Innovation means ‘we’ve made something average a little bit better’.

Revolution means ‘we’ve never done this before though others have’.

Experience means ‘we offer our customers boring and average’.

Transformation means ‘we’ve caught up to everyone else’.

[hence ‘digital transformation’ is simply code for, ‘not being left so far behind’ as opposed – as many in the industry also like to position it – as reinventing the whole category]

And while adland is the cause of a lot of this bullshit, the consultancies – or worse, the wannabe-consultancies – are taking it to a whole new level. Continually creating nonsensical language and definitions in an attempt to feel intellectually superior to those around them. Believing this sort of language acts as a sort-of ‘code’ that helps identify other delusionists, wannabe’s and/or victims … so they can revel and reward themselves with their Emperors New Clothes bullshit.

Until they can’t.

What is particularly amusing is these companies still celebrate the old adage of ‘quality over quantity’ … even though they show up with a level of excessive vulgarity that would put Donald Trump to shame.

Talking in plain English – or plain any language – is not a bad thing.

If anything, it is the most powerful.

Not just because it is easier to communicate and relate to.

Nor because it shows you can identify the core problem that needs addressing.

But because it captures something my old man used to say to all his young lawyers:

“If you want to show how intelligent you are, you’re not that intelligent”.



Brand In 10 Words.

I am a massive fan of Rick Rubin.

Actually that’s not quite right.

I am a massive disciple of Rick Rubin.

I think he is incredible. His ability to help others express their most powerful creative voice is amazing.

So much of this is down to how he see’s his role.

Not as a music producer, but as a sophisticated fan.

Someone who wants the band he loves to be their shameless best.

Protecting them from ever feeling they have to compromise on who they are or what they want to say because he fiercely believes the greatest return comes when you express your honesty and authenticity rather than play to be liked.

It’s why the artists he’s worked with reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the most culturally significant artists of their time.

Those who either defined a genre or validated it.

LL Cool J
Run DMC
The Beastie Boys
Slayer
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Rage Against The Machine
The Black Crowes
The Dixie Chicks
Johnny Cash

Look at that list. Look at it.

Hip Hop. Rap. Rock. Metal. Thrash. Blues. Country. Funk.

No one should be able to be so successful with that range of genre and artist.

It’s hilarious and yet there are so many more artists I could mention because for almost 4 decades, Rubin has helped artists not only express their truth but recognise the economic power from doing so.

He has created icons.
He has revived icons.
He has shaped, pushed and provoked culture.
He has influenced, shaped and changed music forever.

When we hear agencies talk about ‘creating culture’, most haven’t come anywhere close to what he has helped create.

But what I love the most about Rubin is how he decides who he is going to work with.

Basically his entire decision making process is based on one simple process.

Taste.

If Rubin likes what he hears, then he’s up for it.

It doesn’t matter whether it has any connection to anything he’d done before, he see’s it less about the music and more about the artist needing help to express … find … or rediscover their voice.

Not their singing voice. Their soul.

It’s not that far off what we as an industry say we do for brands.

Except we’re increasingly forgetting what brand is because we sacrifice it time and time again for the quick win.

I get it, we’re fighting for our lives … but in our quest to show we have value, we’re destroying what makes us valuable.

Oh I know we won’t admit that.

We’ll point to words like purpose, experience and membership as proof ‘we get it’.

We’ll say they’re representative of modern brand building and all else is old.

We’ll show 1000 page decks that show how our unique processes ‘guarantee’ success.

And some clients will buy this, which means we can go away thinking we’ve got it all sorted out and we’re legends.

Except we haven’t and we aren’t.

Yes, all those elements play an important role in building a modern brand … however they’re never the lead, always a supporting actor because …

Sales without distinction doesn’t build a brand.

Purpose without sacrifice doesn’t build a brand.

Data without understanding doesn’t build a brand.

User journeys without nuance doesn’t build a brand.

Eco-systems without an idea doesn’t build a brand.

Personalisation without being personal doesn’t build a brand.

Wanting to be something to everyone rather than everything to someone doesn’t build a brand.

The harsh reality is we’re dangerously close to confusing commoditisation with brand building. Of course this is not all our fault, but continuing to perpetrate it, most definitely is.

While I appreciate Rick Rubin didn’t mean the photo/quote that appears at the top of this page to be interpreted this way … he pretty much sums up how to build truly distinctive and definitive, culturally resonant brands.

And he does it in 10 words.

TEN!!!

And that’s part of Rubin’s magic.

He understands how to get to the simplest expression of his viewpoint, because he knows the simpler it is, the less obstacles to deal with.

Simple lets truth speak and rise.

Simple lets possibilities flourish.

Simple lets distinctiveness be expressed.

Simple is unbelievable power.

Now the irony of simple is it’s not easy to pull off.

Simple is definitely not simplistic. To be simple requires a hard work, experience and confidence … and while as an industry we have known this and advocated this for decades, we seem to have recently decided the opposite – where we celebrate complexity.

What the hell?!

Maybe it’s because we’re making more money from this approach. Or just feel more important. But the endless playbooks, frameworks, processes, tools and strategies we’re producing aren’t building better brands, just bigger obstacles.

Again, there’s a place for them. But the way they’re being used – they’re more like hammers than brushes – forcing them into the process, competing with all around them and ultimately leaving people lost with what they’re following, what they’re building and what they’re actually doing this all for.

As someone recently said to me – someone hugely successful in business – when companies make the solution more complex than the problem, they’re just creating another problem.

Please don’t think this means you skimp on standards or rigour.

If anything, it’s the exact opposite … but because everyone knows what they’re working towards [rather than doing their version of what they think everyone should be working towards], it means they can be sharp and focused and that means your work can be expressed in ways that lift things up rather than bogs them down.

I get some people won’t like this.

I get some people won’t agree with this.

I get some clients would never sign off on this.

But apart from the fact I doubt any of them will have come close to influencing, shaping or creating culture in the same commercially infectious way Rubin has, if they really believe selling the complexity of intelligence is a smarter way to operate, I’ll leave you with something my dad – who was pretty good on this whole intelligence thing – used to say to his lawyers:

“If you have to show how clever you are, you aren’t that smart”.



Maybe Social Media Needs To Become A Full Contact Sport …
November 26, 2020, 7:30 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Culture, Digital, Diversity, Social Media

I am part of the last generation who experienced life before the internet while also being able to embrace it as an integral part of our life.

It has been amazing and as an [over]user/sharer on pretty much every platform out there, it’s fair to say that I am a big advocate of it.

However things have been changing.

Maybe it’s due to the hell of 2020.

Maybe it’s because we live in such political times.

Maybe there’s simply more pricks out there these days.

But it’s not nearly as nice as it once was.

It’s been happening over some time, but the warm, supportive nature of the mid-2000 blogging community has definitely gone.

I loved that time.

It actually was a community rather than just a bunch of people being on the same platform.

And while people disagreed with each other, there wasn’t the spite you see today.

OK, sometimes there was – but when it happened, the community united to stamp it out.

The attitude was ‘by all means have a different point of view, but maintain respect for the other person views as well’.

It was self-policing … a community who openly opposed anyone who was being toxic towards another, or being condescending or desperate to not just ‘be right’ but wanted to ensure the other person looked foolish to all around them.

But that’s the environment we have on social media most days.

All social media … from Twitter to Linkedin and everything in-between.

Sure, sometimes the internet reveals it can be a community again.

United for something good or meaningful.

But sadly that’s now the exception, overtaken by a bunch of arrogant, condescending, self-righteous pricks.

Who are mainly men. White men.

Who are happy at the destruction of another.

Ridiculing them.

Humiliating them.

Of course trolls have been out there since the earliest days, but we are witnessing a new breed. They’re not the people who we can easily dismiss as vicious fools simply seeking attention.

No, this lot are much harder to spot.

Because they’re able to be personable one second and destructive the next … leaving a stream of people confused and broken from the experience of the interaction.

Broken in terms of who they are.
Broken in terms of what they believe.
Broken in terms of thinking they can contribute.

The ‘I-am-better-than-you’ attitude is everywhere.

It is social bullying of the highest order … where groups form around cults of personality and feel it is OK to ignore pleasantries, debate or reason and feel it is perfectly acceptable to revel in trampling on another.

No one – or very few – would ever dare do that to someone face-to-face and yet they think this is perfectly acceptable behaviour on social platforms.

Well it isn’t.

We have enough hate and anger in the World without us happily adding to it.

And while some may say, “it’s only a small minority doing it”.

They’re confusing the small minority who do it all the time with the large majority who do it some of the time.

And while I appreciate we can all make mistakes or have a bad day – and those so people can show incredible compassion towards others at certain times … the fact is, when we fail to acknowledge our bad behaviour – whether through embarrassment or arrogance – we are showing others it’s OK.

To not care about others.

To think our views are superior views.

Which is why we should maybe all practice something Jill has told me since we got together.

Never do or say anything to someone you wouldn’t do with your significant other next to you.

Because if you do, you can’t complain when you’re punched in the mouth.



When Things Don’t Make Sense, They Sometimes Lead Us To Somewhere Better …

One of the things I loved about R/GA was they were one of the few agencies who truly understood creative tech.

It was never an add on. It was never just about the ‘shiny, new thing’. It was central to the creative process … enabling ideas to explore places you may never have thought about.

It was one place where I really felt I might be able to be part of something that outlived me and while I’m not there anymore, I still think that’s pretty cool.

I say this because in the world of innovation – and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word, not just within the marketing industry – so much of it seems small.

Yes, I know innovation can be executed in multiple ways.

The process.

The technology.

The integration.

But for the people on the street, if innovation doesn’t result in an experience or product they’ve never seen before, too often they end up dismissing it out of hand.

That’s hard for companies.

Especially when the moment they do make something new, the public fawn in delight for half a second, then go off in search for the next new thing.

It’s this situation that paralyses a lot of companies.

They know they have to innovate to keep moving forward but the financial risks involved – both in terms of development, application, competition and audience adoption – mean it’s far more ‘sensible’ to make degrees of change.

So we end up with ‘new features’ that serve little or no purpose because they’re not innovative enough to make people pay attention and not useful enough to make people value what it does for them.

And it’s for this reason why I bloody love this piece of tech madness from Amazon/Ring.

Yes, I know it’s an evolution – albeit an evolution on steroids – of a home security cam.

Yes, I know it’s being sold as a solid and sensible piece of technology.

BUT IT’S A SECURITY CAM ON A DRONE!!!

How nuts is that?

I would have loved to have been in the meeting where that idea came about.

Not to mention the meeting where they had to ask for R&D funding from Bezos.

I wonder if it was a brainstorm and someone just threw the idea out there as a pisstake and then, after everyone laughed, someone said, “that could work”.

Do I think it’s a good idea?

Yeah … maybe.

I mean, they do make other security products that, arguably, are much better protection for the home because [1] you can see them outside the house which [2] acts as a deterrent, so a criminal is less likely to smash a window or door to get in.

But even then I still love it.

Even with one of the worst product demo films I’ve ever seen.

Because at the end of the day, the idea it got made.

An idea, that is frankly utterly bonkers, got produced … and in this world where too many companies are putting the no into innovation, that’s infectiously intoxicating.

But before you accuse me of celebrating creative tech security indulgence … there’s another important thing here.

Because almost regardless how well this sells – though I think it will do brilliantly, simply on ridiculous novelty – it has just opened the door to so many more things.

Not just in terms of what the next iteration of that product will be.

Not just in terms of what the competition will now create.

But in terms of what is possible.

From home security to medical supervision to stuff we haven’t considered yet.

A few years ago I read an article by a tech journalist who said the biggest thing he needed to remember was to not judge new technology by the standards of the established. He had to acknowledge things may not be seamless. That products may not be perfect. Because if he didn’t, he may contribute to killing an idea before it’s had a chance to become what it could be.

It’s an important lesson because all ideas start off fragile.

They need space and time to grow. To get strong. To evolve.

They need nurturing, crafting.

Hell, in some cases, they need humanity to catch up to where the idea already is.

While I fully expect Amazon/Ring to cop a load of piss-taking from people and the media, it’s worth remembering that Fuel Band – another product widely questioned by media and society when it came out – opened the door to creative uses of tech that directly led to NIKE being able to make products that are now relied upon – and loved – by millions of athletes all around the World.

Or said another way.

Without Fuel Band – developed by R/GA – we may be living in the athletic dark ages.

So here’s to more crazy creative tech ideas.

Because as mad as they may seem at the beginning, they might just be the things that push us all to somewhere greater.



Are Warc Berks?

Last year, WARC made the terrible mistake of inviting me – and Martin, though he is never a mistake – to talk at their show at Cannes.

While our talk on chaos seemed to go down rather well, I was still amazed they invited us.

Well, me.

Amazingly, they still haven’t come to their senses, because last month they asked me to write something about how COVID-19 was affecting business. And while they wisely edited down what I’d written, you’d have think they would have learned their lesson by now.

But no.

And while I would love to say the reason I am posting it on here is because I feel it is a worthy read, the real reason is I am too tired to write a post today so this solves that ‘problem’ nicely.

I know this gives you no incentive to actually read it, but it does talk about Pornhub in it.

And penis shaped pasta.

And David Lee Roth.

Oh who am I kidding, you don’t even read the short posts.

Damnit.

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If You Think Change Only Happens When There’s A Global Pandemic, You’re Not Paying Close Enough Attention.

COVID COVID COVID. That’s all I’m hearing.

Of course I get it … it’s a terrible situation with ramifications that could fundamentally change the way we live, work and operate forever.

Hell, just a few weeks ago, the head of the Automobile Association, Edmund King, suggested the demand for travel – by road or rail – will reduce so dramatically [due to companies and employees recognising the ability to work from home] that the government may be better putting money into broadband instead of bolstering infrastructure.

That statement, if true, would have a seismic impact on an incredible amount of industries … from car manufacturing, train services, commercial leasing and banking to name but a few. And then, when you add in the expectation’s [some of] society is placing on the actions and behaviour of brands through websites like didtheyhelp.com, you see why some are saying the societal reset button has been pressed.

But I’m not going to write about that.

Not because I don’t believe it, but because everyone is writing about it.

My point is less dramatic. It’s simply that how we live, work and operate is always evolving, so if you only think it is happening now, you’ve been asleep at the wheel.

If You’re Not Moving Forwards, You’re Moving Backwards

I don’t want this to be a big piece for R/GA, but we’ve always loved playing to where culture is heading rather than where it is.

It’s part of the reason why we’ve continually reinvented ourselves as a company and why we’ve been able to fuse creativity with technology to either define the future normal or open the door for it to start establishing itself.

Some of these ideas required us to be ridiculously audacious – like when we created Fuel Band for NIKE to start changing the way everyday athletes train and develop or when we created one of the first digital banks – NEXT in Brazil – because we saw how the values and aspirations of 20-30 year olds were totally different to the products and services the established banks were offering.

And while those two are on a grand scale for liberating change, the reality is it doesn’t matter what the size of the project is, we always place huge value on exploring cultural and sub-cultural changes because pandemic or not, people are always evolving.

While I really didn’t want to talk about COVID-19, the fact is the biggest shifts occur when there is a crisis and it’s fair to say, that’s what’s going on now.

Put simply, crisis collapses time.

What could take decades to evolve can happen in years, months, weeks or minutes.

For example, after arguably centuries of being denied, women were finally recognised as societal equals* after people [read: men] saw the vital role they had played in the war effort of WW2.

[* acknowledging that women are still continually denied equality in so many aspects of life]

Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Newton’s 3rd law, which states ‘for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction’ has been around since 1686. But some had started to believe these shifts only occurred through technological revolution when the reality is cultural adversity is equally as powerful … and the reality is COVID-19 is creating some major changes of attitude and behaviour.
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At the time of writing …

35% of Britons are worried about their employment.

The average Londoner is saving over 2 hours per day of commuting time working from home.

The top 10 fastest growing products being bought on the internet right now are in the categories of healthy eating, medicine and gym equipment … though chips, popcorn and snack foods are also all experiencing triple digit growth.

64% of people believe their community is stronger now than pre-COVID-19 … with approx. 1/3 of people offering to help vulnerable neighbours.

Families are now spending approx. 16 hours awake together compared to a previous average of 2.5.

Google searches for ‘meditation’ has reached its highest level in history.

Visits to Pornhub.com has risen globally 11+%, with ‘corona virus’ searches in the site reaching 1.5 million on March 5th alone.
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These are all big shifts with major implications. And while I accept there is a chance things will return to the ‘old normal’ when the situation becomes a bit more stable – there are 3 things to remember:

1. The longer this goes on, the more likely these new attitudes and behaviours will become established and self-sustaining.

2. Not everyone’s situation is the same, including when isolation will end for them.

3. Even if things do return to the past for every single person, they will all continue on their individual journey of evolution … whether in attitude, behaviour, aspiration, ambition or a combination of all.

A New Value Of Money?

Once upon a time, the rock singer, David Lee Roth, said:

“Whoever said money doesn’t buy you happiness doesn’t know where to shop”.

While this may well have been the attitude for multiple generations, right now – across the entire World – the value of money is literally being re-written by society.

I’m not talking about what and where people want to spend their cash [though there are some fascinating facts emerging, such as Ann Summers – the adult romance company – revealing the shortage of pasta in supermarkets had led to them selling more of their ‘penis pasta’ in 1 week than they’d sold in all of 2019] … I’m talking about their relationship with it and, as a result, their relationship with their banks.
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At the time of writing …

55% of people are very or extremely worried about the national economy, with 35% very or extremely worried about their household financial position.

950,000 people have successfully applied for Universal Credit in 2 weeks.

In the UK, car sales for March 2020 have fallen 40%.

56% of Britons actively want to support local businesses over global business.

22% of Britons are already changing buying habits, especially for non-essential items.

And while on their own, these might not seem scary – even though they only represent the first 4 weeks of Corona impact in the UK – when you overlay it with some of the cultural narrative appearing on Mumsnet and Reddit …

“I don’t want to live in a city where I can’t afford a back garden”

“Why have investments when they go down when you need them most”

“Who thought I’d value a full fridge more than full wardrobe?”

“The government needs to see public services as an investment, not a cost”

… you start to realise the fundamental attitudinal changes that are starting to occur.

Of course, many of these shifts in attitudes regarding money may be being driven by their circumstances.

Maybe they can’t believe how quickly their financial situation has changed.
Maybe for the first time in their life, access to what they’ve always enjoyed faces obstacles.
Maybe the lack of human contact has highlighted how alone they are.
Maybe it’s seeing a business they built for years fall apart in days.
Maybe it’s not being able to leave their apartment and breathe fresh air for weeks.
Maybe it’s realising that how you live is becoming more important than what you have.
Maybe it’s realising this isn’t a matter of wealth or poverty… but life or death.

Whatever the reason, you start to think that just maybe some of the fundamental values, attitudes and behaviours entire industries have banked on – and actively fought to maintain – are starting to shift.

If that becomes reality, then not only are the ramifications going to be mind-blowing for business, it will mean Alvin Toffler – the futurist, writer and businessman – was right when he said the illiterate of the 21st won’t be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

While I readily admit I have neither the brains, vocabulary – or even the looks – of Mr Toffler, I wholeheartedly subscribe to his belief that change is the only constant … which is why I thought I’d end this piece with 3 ways we help our clients be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

1. The Most Valuable Thing You Can Give Your Client Is Honesty

When we were helping create Next Bank in Brazil – part of Bradesco – we discovered nearly 70% of the target audience would rather visit the dentist than go to a bank. No-one likes to hear they’re not liked, but knowing what people really thought of them allowed us to make decisions that could drive the biggest impact and value. In simple terms, it meant everyone was behind creating a bank that didn’t act or operate like a typical bank.

2. The Culture Of The Category Tells You The Direction Of The Category

We spend a huge amount of time understanding the culture around a category. Not just in terms of how people transact or interact … but how they live, act, talk and behave. From the music they love to the hashtags they use. For example, with NIKE Girlstalk, we use interviews, social listening and data to understand how athletes are talking about sport … because often shifts in language indicate changes in how they see or play sport. Some may not think this is important, but it’s the difference between talking athlete to athlete or brand to customer.

3. Use Technology To Be More Human, Not More Automated

We believe customer experience builds and defines brands. It’s why we look at technology as much more than a tool to drive efficiency and optimisation … but something that can engage audiences emotionally and distinctly. For example, COVID-19 is revealing a multitude of ways people are using tech to feel connected to others … from Zoom background hysteria to virtual pub quizzes to mega concerts on Fortnite. All of this shows the multitude of ways society plays with tech to provide them with emotional – not just functional – fulfilment, which should remind brands their customers need more than just, ‘category best practice’ digital efficiency.

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Sources:
The Daily Mail, 6 April, 2020
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Office For National Statistics
Stackline Retail Intelligence
OnePoll on behalf of ChannelMum.com Survey
Prof Jacqui Gabb of the Open University
Google Analytics
Pornhub.com Corona Virus Data
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
The Guardian Newspaper April 1, 2020
Reuters, April 6, 2020
Hall & Partners
Dynata: Global Trends Report, COVID-19 Edition
Topics of conversation on Mumsnet/Reddit during March 2020