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


Who Is Fooling Who?

Being old, I’ve done more than my fair share of judging awards.

I enjoy it.

Yes it’s a major investment in terms of time, but when you come across an absolutely devastatingly good submission, it’s worth every second.

However it is also fair to say that over the years, there have been some real painful experiences. Either in terms of average papers being seemingly entered into every category in a bid to increase the odds of winning something or papers that have such a strong scent of scam, even Ray Charles can see how suspect they are. [Sorry Mr Charles]

I always laugh when I come across those. Specially at the agencies submitting them … because while they obviously think they are geniuses – or the judges are idiots – the reality is they’re wrong on both counts.

But here’s the thing, people can slag off awards all they like, but they matter.

For Colenso for example, they’re important.

We’re a small agency on the other side of the planet and being able to show our creativity and effectiveness is vitally important to keep demonstrating our validity to attract global clients.

But – and it’s a big but – it only works if its real.

And that only works if all the winners around it are also real.

Now I appreciate that different clients have different needs and budgets.

I appreciate different markets have different cultural traits, behaviours and media.

I absolutely appreciate some entries use a language that is not their native tongue.

And I think that is all brilliant – though I also think none-native English speakers are at an immediate disadvantage and the award organisers should be looking at ways to change that.

However, if you need to write 8456738585463 words to explain your problem or your idea or your insight or your results … you’re not helping yourself.

Nor are you if you are using the pandemic as your strategies main adversary – often followed up with the words, ‘how do we grow in an era of the new normal?’.

Of course I am not doubting the pandemic has caused havoc among categories of business all over the world. It’s definitely happened to me too. But if we don’t explain what the challenge is – how it has affected behaviour or values or distribution or competition or anything other than it ‘made things more difficult’ … then it’s as lazy as the time I judged the Effies in the US when Trump came to power and the opening line of 85% of all submissions was:

How do we bring a nation divided together?

[My fave was when a whisky brand used that as their creative challenge. HAHAHAHA]

I take the judging seriously because I want the awards to be valued.

I want the awards to be valued because I want the industry to be valued.

And I want the industry to be valued because I want clients to win, creativity to win and the people coming up behind me to have a chance of taking us all to better and more interesting places that we’re at right now.

And I believe they can if we don’t fuck up the chance for them.

I get awards are nice to have.

I get they can drive business and payrises.

But if we keep allowing bullshit a chance to shine – and let’s face it, we have time and time again – then all we’re doing is fucking ourselves over.

I’m fine with failure.

In fact I’m very, very comfortable with it.

Especially when it’s because someone has tried to do something audacious for all the right reasons … because even if it doesn’t come off, it’s opened the door to other things we may never have imagined. There’s even real commercial value to that.

But when agencies create, hijack or exploit problems to just serve their own means – then fuck them. Maybe – just maybe – if they did it at a scale that could make a real difference, you’d be prone to encourage it. But when it’s done to achieve just what is needed to let the creators win an award … then frankly, the organisers and judges have a moral obligation to call it out.

Asia gets a bad wrap for this. And over the years that has been deserved, but I can tell you no market is immune. Hell, I’ve even seen some in NZ recently – or one in particular – and what made it worse was it wasn’t even any good.

But as rubbish as that example was, at least it didn’t stoop to the levels we have seen previously.

Let’s remember it’s only 4 years ago an agency WON MAJOR AWARDS for an app they said could help save refugees on boats by tracking them in the sea … only for them to then claim – when later called out – that the app was in beta testing hence the information being sent back to users was not real.

Amazingly ignoring the fact they didn’t say that in any of their entry submissions and if they had, they wouldn’t have been eligible for the awards they entered in the first place.

Creativity can do amazing things.

Advertising can do amazing things.

But we fuck it up when we put the superficial on the podium.

Of course, this is not just an agency problem. Clients are also part of this. Because if they let agencies do what they are great at rather than treating them as a subservient production partner … maybe we’d not just see more interesting work, but even more interesting and valuable brands.



More Than The MD, But The Boss …

This is Angela.

Her official title is the Managing Director of Colenso.

But actually she’s the boss.

Not just because of how she is sitting, but because of how she operates.

Leading without dictating.

Encouraging without patronising.

Liberating without restricting.

The great, great thing about Angela is that for all the experience and success she’s gained, she is open and hungry to let the energy, ambition and values of youth to keep shaping and changing where we are going.

Angela’s strength is she wants everyone to win.

She opens the door to opportunities for talent to run in and do their thing rather than closing it behind her so she can have all the power.

But then female leadership has always seen winning differently to a lot of men.

Progress for all rather than power for one.

And before certain men start spouting their sexist shit at me like they did when I wrote about how more female leadership will give the industry a real chance to grow, I appreciate not all male leaders are like this.

But a hell of a lot are.

And – if you look at Corporate Gaslighting and/or read Zoe Scaman’s brilliant, brave but totally unsurprising Mad Men and Furious Women – many of them are doing stuff … and are being allowed to get away with stuff, often by companies that talk about their commitment to their staffs wellbeing and mental health … that is a fuckload worse.



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.