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


Big Enough To Matter, But Not Big Enough To Count …

Recently I was reading an article on Brexit when I came across a comment that stopped me in my tracks.

The reason for it is that in a few words – literally a few – it not only highlighted the issue with many of the shortsighted fools who voted for leaving the European Union – and likely voted for the election of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – but also could be used to explain the decline of so many companies, institutions and individuals.

This is it …

What a perfectly constructed sentence.

A devastating set of words that places you perfectly in a corner you can’t get out of.

It’s almost a Hollywood movie line it’s so crafted in its underlying viciousness.

But of course, the people it challenges won’t accept it.

They will continue to refuse to acknowledge their complicity in the situation millions now face.

Because as I’ve written before, people has difficulty understanding something when their credibility and reputation depends on them not understanding something.

It’s why they will continue to cast blame on everyone else.

Why they will continue to claim the opposition are more dangerous than the government they voted in … the government that has brought an entire nation to its knees.

But let’s be honest, the reason for their attitude is even uglier than not wanting to own up to what they contributed to. Because for all their claims of wanting a ‘better Britain’ … the real reason behind their choice was to create a barrier between them and people they think are beneath them.

A way to feel socially, morally, professionally superior to those around them, while conveniently choosing to ignore they were either given great advantage from birth over the vast majority of people or seek to mitigate their situation by blaming everyone else for what they have not achieved, despite starting from greater advantage.

I get it. It’s kind-of human nature. It’s also the unspoken truth of democracy – where the reality is we tend to vote for what works for you rather than what’s right for the nation.

Of course the unspoken truth is still better than the alternative … however given the way politics and business are increasingly allowing spin, vitriol and lies, it seems we’re seeing ‘post truth’ as an accepted and embraced business strategy.

And that’s why the independent voice has never been so important.

Not just in the public domain, but within organisations, governments and individual groups.

Not to attack, destroy or dethrone – as is the current trend – but to protect.

To ensure the people making decisions – or the people asking to decide on the options – are aware of the range of possibilities and outcomes that could occur rather than just blindly following a blinkered promise of what will happen.

Not delivered with hyperbole or exaggeration, but with quiet, informed context and facts … delivered by an individual or organisation without political affiliation and respected for their independence.

It doesn’t mean it will stop things like Brexit happening, but it will ensure people who knowingly bend the truths to suit their own agenda or were deliberately ignorant to the choices they made are held to account. Because without that, we carry on down this sorry path where governments, organisations or individuals can choose to ignore previous choices they made, ignore the passing of time that changes the context of everything and ignore the realities others may have caught up and left us behind.

I am under no illusion that the truth hurts, but delusion damages us forever.

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Collabs Are Becoming A Circle Jerk …

Before I start, I’ve been a huge fan of collabs over the years. Seeing what happens when two different artists or brands or artists and brands come together has been fascinating.

And for every terrible LG x Prada phone, there’s a Nike x Ben & Jerry’s sneaker.

But … but … it feels we’ve moved from collab to labelling.

Where it isn’t about what two parties can create with each other, but just renting space for another brand to slap their logo on.

Take these Travis Scott x Playstation x Nike sneakers …

Jesus Christ.

Where the Ben & Jerry’s felt crafted and cared for this is just … well, put it this way, it feels more like a bad promotional item than something that represents a true collab.

And the thing is, this approach is happening more and more – across all manner of categories – which is why I kinda love what Nobuaki Kurokawa has done with their first product launch from their CUGGL label.

Let’s be honest, they’re taking the piss.

Like, blatantly and unashamedly.

Not only does it look like it say’s Gucci, by making the design resemble graffiti, it feels like they’re also sticking two fingers up at the terrible and contrived Gucci/Balenciaga collab.

The Gucci x Belenciaga is especially horrific because individually, they’ve not really laid a foot wrong in building the value and position in culture of their brands. And then they do this.

Lazy.

Fake.

Obvious.

Out-of-date.

Dad at the disco rubbish.

Basically, the fashion industry version of this.

Which is why I like what CUGGL have done so much.

Punking the brands pretending to be punking fashion.

Of course, Diesel did something like that before – though their mischievous eye was aimed at the counterfeit industry [even though it kinda said ‘fakes may be real’, which is the last thing they needed to do] however in terms of greatest accolade for mischief, that prize should have gone to the band Blink 182.

I say ‘should have’ because they ended up pulling out of potentially the greatest burn ever.

In the early 2000’s, Axl Rose was making a new Guns’ n’ Roses album.

It was unique because the only original member of the band was Axl himself.

He had fired all the band and was basically at his most indulgent ego best.

The only thing he’d announced was the album was going to be called ‘The Chinese Democracy’.

For years and years nothing came out.

The album postponed time and time again.

At one point, his record label, Geffen, pulled funding … and yet the recording still went on.

Enter Blink 182.

They announce they were recording a new album and guess what they were going to call it …

That’s right, The Chinese Democracy.

Better yet, because Axl was taking so long to release his version – they could be sure they’d be first, so history would always make it look that Guns n’ Roses copied Blink 182.

Alas they went cowardly on the idea, which is a shame … because that would have set a benchmark CUGGL and Diesel could only dream of reaching.

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Why Big Doesn’t Mean Better …

Scale.

A single word that has become the barrier to so much.

How big can you get it?
How much can you make it worth?
How do you plan to expand, expand, expand.

Now I get it …

If you want – or need – investors, they want to feel their cash will grow.

But the by-product of this is that scale has now become the measure we define ourselves by.

If it’s not big, it’s not worth it.
If it’s not the largest, it’s not the greatest.
If it isn’t known around the world, it’s not worth caring about.

And I’m not just talking in terms of investment, but in so many fields.

Advertising is one of them.

And I certainly have been guilty of it.

Thinking working on global brands meant I was somehow better than those who worked on more local clients.

But thankfully, I quickly learned that was bollocks.

Because on top of everything else, far too often global brands are a shitshow of politics and hierarchy.

Wading through pools of treacle.
That are located inside a maze.
Constantly being moved around.
In the dark.
All in a bid to delay making a decision.
Because not pissing off your boss is more important than creating value for customers.

Which is why for all the NIKE’s, Spotify’s and Metallica’s there’s a whole lot more … well. let’s just say there’s a whole lot more of those other sort of global clients.

And while I’ve been luckier than most with the global clients I’ve worked with – which is fortunate given most of my career has been working with them – the reality is it’s got nothing to do with their scale and everything to do with the values and aspirations of the individuals you’re working with.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow … of course they do and that’s what they’re paying you to help them achieve it.

However growth and scale are different things.

Growth is building, evolving, creating and changing.

Scale is power, speed, conformity and consistency,

And that’s why people focused on scale, can tend to get blinkered …

Focusing on speed and size rather than standards and substance.

And before you know it, they’re churning out all manner of communication landfill, because they believe being something for everyone is better than being everything to someone.

Which is why I love this small hole-in-the-wall store I saw not so long ago.

I have no idea how many people need a quick buttonhole service …

I appreciate the sign is a ramshackle mess.

And yet it made me so happy because the shop looks like it’s been there for a long time which suggests the owner has built a position and value within the community they serve.

Where ‘quick’ is more a by-product of their experience rather than the objective of why they’re in business.

Maybe.

And while I could be completely wrong about them, the reason I love it is because it reminds me that we should celebrate business who wish to live up to a standard not down to a scale.

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If You’re Going To Be Arrogant, At Least Earn The Right To Be That Way …

Recently I saw an interview with a photographer, I vaguely know.

[By vaguely, I mean it, we had a couple of interactions that he would never remember]

His name is Gavin Watson and he’s been taking photos since his early teens.

He’s almost 58 now and over that time, he’s built an enviable reputation for capturing the raw beauty of subcultures people either don’t understand or fear.

The photo he is proudest of is this one …

He took it while on a tube in London.

I think he was 15 at the time and it’s of his mate, ‘Skinny Jim’.

FIFTEEN!!!

But that’s not what I’m writing about, it’s about some answers he gave in an article in The Guardian.

Have a look at this …

In 3 answers, it says all you need to know about him.

Sure, you may think he is confident and arrogant … some may even suggest he reveals some bitterness in his response … but you’d be missing the point, because when he says, “don’t expect fame unless you photograph stars – and that’s boring as fuck, he’s talking about earning his right to his place in the photography world.

Doing stuff.

Learning, practicing, grafting.

Through highs, lows, tough times, good times.

It’s important because the value of graft is losing its value in a world of short-cuts to fame.

I wrote about this a while ago – specifically the value of graft versus the evil of hustle – but in a World where ‘industry fame’ on platforms like twitter is viewed as an act of career achievement, we need more Gavin’s than those who say a lot, but have created little.



When Hijacking Culture Is Copyright Theft In Disguise …

Love it or loathe it, but Wordle has captured the world’s attention. Whether it will continue to do that now the NYTimes has bought it, is anyones guess, but right now, it’s peak popularity.

Hell, even I love it and I HATE word games.

Crosswords? Hate.

Scrabble? Hate.

And yet whether it’s the last thing I do before I go to sleep or the first thing I do when I wake up, I’m playing the days challenge. And I’m brilliant at it. Hahaha.

Anyway, I was on Twitter when I recently saw this from Air New Zealand.

Look, I get it’s a competitive world.

I get brands are looking for anything that can help them stand out.

And I get ‘hijacking culture’ is a cheat way of doing this.

But there’s 2 reasons why this approach is tragic rather than magic.

First is it’s Air New Zealand.

Of all the airline brands out there, they are a pioneer. An innovator. A leader.

They’ve created, influenced and changed the airline industry in ways few have come close.

From being the first to make ‘in-flight safety videos’, entertainment to creating economy seats that turn into beds.

Ripping off Wordle doesn’t represent any of this.

If anything, it does the opposite.

But then, when I see the work they are putting out these days, maybe it all makes sense.

When a nation that prides itself as explorers and adventures has their National Airline promote their role in a post-covid world as being ‘we fly for you’ … you have to question if they realise what they’ve done or if they made a conscious effort to ditch the approach that made them great and forward thinking in favour of the sort of bland, contrived, unrealistic and meaningless twaddle of big corporation 90’s advertising.

Like this.

From 1991.

God I hope not. They are better than that and NZ needs them to be better than that.

Which leads to the other reason.

Hijacking culture.

What’s interesting is that so many brands do it.

As I said, I get why … but 99% of them have failed to understand how it really works and so we now live in a world where the approach is so common, it doesn’t surprise anyone.

If anything, it un-hijacks culture.

So how does it really work?

Well having worked with the brand and agency that arguably created the approach – or at least mastered it – the secret is to do something that adds to culture, not just steals from it.

Which means having an actual right to be there.

Then do something that opens things up, not just repeat what’s already happened.

Adding a point of view to the situation not just adding more noise and clutter to it.

Of course, even with all that, it still doesn’t mean it will work … but its definitely going to be better than the desperate amateur hour that so many brands favour.

Who think it makes them look cool but forgetting if you’re trying to be that, you’re definitely not ever going to be that.