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


The Fine Line Between Guidelines And Dictatorship …

I recently came across the above ‘guidelines’ for the cartoon RoadRunner and Cayote.

Admittedly they read more like a list of rules than guidelines, but there’s two things that really struck me:

1. How well they knew their characters.
2. How they only needed 9 ‘guidelines’ to truly encapsulate the characters of the cartoon.

Now you could say that I shouldn’t be surprised.

It’s a cartoon.

They draw it every day.

But I deal with companies all the time who have been making stuff and couldn’t articulate the key characteristics that ensures their product is distinct to them.

Many could talk about the process in which they make it, but few would be able to highlight the context needed to ensure their is a consistency in the ‘experience’ for the audience.

Which reminds me of a story I’ve told many times before.

The time we interviewed chefs for Tabasco Sauce and one said,

“The more confident the chef, the less ingredients they need.”

I guess that can be paraphrased for anything … even cartoons.

Which reminds me of another story I’ve written before.

The one where Ronald Reagan articulates how you know if you’ve done a good job in expressing your perspective or point of view.

“If you’re explaining, you’re losing”.

Planners … creatives … brands should take note of both.



Originality Wanted …

I still remember buying a movie soundtrack only to discover none of the songs had actually featured in the movie.

When I looked at the cover, I saw “songs inspired by the movie” … in other words, the film company couldn’t get the rights to release the actual music, so they got some two-bit band to write some nondescript music supposedly after watching the film.

It wasn’t as bad as those albums where they got a covers band to sing a well known song – rather than the actual artist – but it was close.

The reason I say this is that I’m seeing a bunch of ‘write-ups’ of ads that seem to adopt the same position.

“Inspired by”.

“Influenced”

“Reinterpreted”.

Now there’s nothing really wrong with this … it’s something that’s been done by all manner of industries for centuries … however while there’s a common belief that ‘genius steals’, the counter to this is ‘lazy borrows’.

I know … I know … I’m being deliberately assholey, but the beauty of our industry is when we allow creatives the freedom to create.

To allow their crazy minds to take us all to crazy intriguing places.

But instead … thanks to budgets, timelines, dictatorial research, corporate fear, layers of management – and countless other things – we don’t.

Which is why we see so many pieces of work that are replications of a film, a meme, a song, a TikTok idea … basically a version of an album of popular songs that haven’t been played by any of the original artists.

Our industry is capable of brilliant things.

But we’ve sold creativity down the river in a bid to make things easier for people who don’t even value the power of creativity.

Nothing smacks of madness as much as that.

Meanwhile, culture leads change of behaviour, attitudes and choices through its endless energy to explore and express.

So while being inspired is one thing, duplicating is another and when certain brands expect people to spend hundreds or thousands on their products, it blows my mind they want to under-invest in the way they actually present themselves in their communication.

Oh they won’t see it that way.

They’ll talk about the celebrity they hired to front the campaign.

Or the music they licensed.

But underneath it all, they’ll they’re taking shortcuts.

They’ll kid themselves it’s working with charts on optimisation or efficiencies … but the reality is they’re trying to work out how long they’ve got before it all falls apart, because the difference between leading and chasing is not about spend, it’s about attitude.

Or said another way …

You either make music or you’re just a cover band.



A Reminder About Humans To Everyone Dealing With Humans …

No matter how well planned you think you are.

How detailed you’ve been.

How many case studies you’ve watched.

How many focus groups you’ve sat in.

How logical your argument is.

People will always do what works for them, not works for you.

So think about that next time you try and claim your comms plan/user journey is a true reflection of how all people engage with brands and make purchase decisions.

For the record …

I get the role and value of comms plans/user journeys.

I have no issue with them. In fact they can make a real difference to the work.

Where I get pissy is when they’re presented as ‘fact’ rather than a guide. Acting like they represent how ALL people behave – while ignoring factors like personal situation and circumstance as well as competitive activity.

Of course this attitude of ‘unquestionable, unbendable, superior intelligence and logic’ is prevalent in many planners … probably driven more by clients wanting certainty and consistency than personal ego … however by refusing to acknowledge we’re dealing more in frameworks than blueprints, we’re not just undermining our discipline and inadvertently placing barriers on new approaches and experiments, but ultimately selling generalised convenience rather than personal intimacy which means it’s set up to be average from the outset.

Madness.

As I said to a client recently about insights …

They’re not perfect.

They’re not infallible.

They’re not all encompassing.

But when done right, they increase the odds of good things happening because they reveal the ridiculous truth behind people’s beliefs and behaviours … and I swear if we all adopted this attitude towards what we do, we may just end up making things that are more interesting and more effective as well.

We won’t. But I just like to think we might.



In The Rush To Succeed, You Can Go Right Past What You’re Actually Looking To Achieve …

I’ve written a lot about craft.

The value of it.

Creatively, culturally and commercially.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate speed can have a competitive advantage – but it’s also important to remember so can craft.

In all honesty, you can easily tell those who think ‘good enough is good enough’ and those who are focused on doing things wonderfully.

They may look similar.

They may perform in similar ways.

But there’s something that separates them.

Maybe it’s the quality of materials or the attention to detail when your look closely or maybe it just feels differently … something that feels like someone sweated everything all the time.

But what is interesting is why.

Because it’s not just so they can charge someone more for what they’ve done … but, as Steve Job’s referenced in his paint behind the fence story … so they can feel they’re valuing their own talent and standards.



Nothing Shows Respect Like Letting Someone Argue With You …

A career is a funny thing.

I mean literally, as a concept – it’s quite bizarre.

The idea of working in one industry and hoping to move up a fictional ladder and somehow hope that by the time you’re pushed off it – and we’ll all be pushed off it at some time – you’ve built up enough reputation or cash to keep you going through till the bitter end.

Hahahaha … Mr Positive eh!?

Anyway, by hook or by crook I’ve somehow managed to have what I’d call a career.

Admittedly, I fell into it – but overall, I’ve had a pretty good one.

I’ve worked at some amazing places.
I’ve got to live literally all around the World.
I’ve met people who have literally changed my life.
I’ve been part of work that still excites me years later.
And somehow, I’m still doing all those things, which is insane.

But as wonderful as all that is, one thing I am particularly proud of is how many of my old team mates are now at some of the most highly regarded creative companies in the World doing all manner of interesting things.

Of course, I had little to do with it – it’s all their talent – but the bit that makes me proud is that they are forging their own careers based on their own ideas and their own opinions and their own voice.

About 2005, I realised how lucky I had been with previous bosses.

All of them encouraged me to find my own voice rather than duplicate someone else’s … and while that often got me in trouble, they never strayed from their path of encouraging independent thought.

Now I appreciate a lot of companies say this, but this wasn’t some PR bullshit they could spout in a magazine, they lived it – openly and actively welcoming, encouraging and igniting debate.

And they never ‘pulled rank’.

It was always a discussion of equals – which was one of the most empowering and liberating professional feelings I ever had.

It showed trust. It showed respect. It showed value.

And even though I’m an old fuck who has done OK in my career, I still get that same feeling when I am working with others who embrace the same value.

As much as rockstars and billionaires may have a reputation for demanding diva’s, I can honestly say the ones I’ve been working with have been amazing in welcoming opinion. They may not always like what is said, but they always value why it has.

And that’s why, when I saw a shift in planning from rigour to replication … challenge to complicity … and individuality to impotency [driven by the global financial crisis of 2008] I realised the best thing I could do is encourage my team to be independent in thought, voice and behaviour.

I should point out this was not selfless. By having great creative and cultural thinkers in my team, they would help make even better work and that would have a positive effect on me too.

I know, what a prick eh.

And of course, I acknowledge not every planner was following the replication path. Nor was every agency. But it was definitely happening and arguably, this is why Australian planners have risen in position more than those from other nations [ie: Tobey head of planning at Uncommon, Paula global head of Nike planning at Wieden, Andy head of planning at Wieden Portland, Rodi, head of strategy at Apple South East Asia and Aisea MD at Anomaly LA to name but 5] because – as much as the Aussie government may like to say they suffered – the country was largely unaffected, which meant training continued, standards continued, creativity continued.

So while there was a bunch of other values we continually encouraged and practiced, the desire to develop independent thinking, openness and debate were a real focus of mine and have continued to be.

Whether I was successful is up to the people who had the awkwardness of dealing with me, but I distinctly remembering being in a meeting at Wieden in Shanghai after Sue, Leon and Charinee had just challenged a bunch of things we had just talked to the agency about.

One of the global team was there and said, “they’re very outspoken”.

And while normally that could be read as a diss, it wasn’t … it was more of a surprise because many people in China – especially the young – tend to keep very quiet, especially in front of people who are at a more senior level to them and this mob had gone to town.

To which I replied, “I know. It’s a wonderful headache to have”.

And it was.

And it is.

Which is why I will continue to believe the best thing any head of planning can do is encourage independent thought and respect for debate and rigour … because while it can creates moments where it’s a right pain in the arse, the alternative is far more disagreeable.

Have a great weekend.