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


When Your Whole Childhood Is A Lie, But Still Better Than A Lot Of Adult Marketing Truth …

When I was young, I was introduced to a whole host of iconic TV characters.

Six Million Dollar Man.

Wonder Woman.

Buck Rogers.

Superman.

The Incredible Hulk.

Of course there were more, lots more – from cartoons to local kids TV – but the one’s from America just seemed to be more amazing.

Part of this was probably the production value of the shows, but it was also the imagination they triggered and celebrated in me.

It was so much more than just entertainment, it challenged, encouraged and introduced me to a whole new way to look and see the possibilities of the World.

These characters continue to hold a lot of sentimentality with me, because despite being over 40 years ago, they were – in many ways – characters that defined my generation.

They were OUR shows, even when they were a remake of something that went before.

I say this because when I look at Otis, the characters from his shows are so different.

For a start, so many of them are born through Youtube.

Plus there’s also a huge amount from games, like Roblox or Minecraft.

But the relationships are similar to the ones I had with the Incredible Hulk etc.

And that’s because they’re his characters.

They are badges of his generation.

He connects to people who share the same love and knowledge.

Which is a good reminder that in a world where we are continually going on about new possibilities, new opportunities and new technologies … the forces that make so many of them successful and valuable are the same things as they’ve always been.

Emotion.

Of course we should know this.

Of course this should be obvious.

But I don’t know if we do.

I read so much these days that seems to be focused on efficiencies, effectiveness, experience or eco-systems … and while they’re all important and have a role to play … they aren’t the reason people connect so deeply, they’re just tools to help make it happen.

In our quest to be seen as innovative, we’re re-making the wheel over and over again except it’s not as simple. Or as effective. Or as powerful.

Because we’re so desperate to look like we’ve done something new, we walk away from the things that can make something valuable.

Beyond price.
Beyond status.
Beyond superficial.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten the value of emotion.

We talk about it. We describe it. We even attempt to show it.

But instead, we have reduced it to a set of ‘research group approved’ actions and behaviours.

A set of research group approved actions and behaviours that are more focused on telling people what we want them to think about rather than to feel.

A set of research group approved actions and behaviours that are designed to minimise the potential of alienating someone rather than making it mean everything to them.

How fucking depressing.

More than that, how fucking laughable.

Because the holy grail for all these brands is to encourage loyalty beyond reason.

Where people choose you over countless competitors.

Where they will queue for hours to stand a chance to have a moment in your company.

Where people will willingly wear a t-shirt with your name emblazoned on it.

Where people will do this over and over again, regardless of time, money or location.

For all the money, research and ‘marketing guru tactics’ so many brands adopt these days … they still don’t come anywhere close to the impact bands, gaming characters and old 1970’s TV shows have on people.

And there’s one simple reason for it.

You don’t make people care talking about them, you do it by being for them.

Not in terms of ‘removing friction to purchase’.

Or telling them you really, really care about them.

Or saying you’re committed to their progress and success.

Or you want them to get the best value deal they can get.

But by recognising who they are, not who you want them to be.

And then talking to them that reflects that.

The good, bad, weird, strange, complex, scary, hopeful, uncomfortable.

It’s not hard.

And yet it seems to be the hardest thing in the World.

Which is mad, given a man painted green and a shitty rubbery mask was able to do it and 40+ years later, can still ignite more feelings of love and loyalty from me than 98.99999% of all brands with their research and marketing guru processes.



Beware Of The Quiet Ones …

Once upon a time, I worked with a guy called Kim Papworth.

He was the co-ECD of Wieden London at the time, with the irrepressible Tony Davidson.

Now I am sure Tony wouldn’t mind me saying this, but he has a reputation as a bit of a madman.

Brilliantly creative.

Deliciously stubborn.

Fiercely challenging.

And slightly bonkers.

OK, so in their early days – when they were at BMP and BBH – this ‘unique’ reputation was allegedly shared … however as time went by, Kim started being seen by many people as ‘the nice one’.

While they are both ace, I get why.

Where Tony is loud, Kim is quiet.

Where Tony is chaos, Kim is clarity.

Where Tony is intense, Kim is calm.

Where Tony is random, Kim is considered.

Let me be clear, Tony was – and is – amazing and has always been so good to me, however many viewed Kim as the more approachable of the two … the one you could reason with … the one you could chat to … the one you could have a debate with and it’s this that was his most powerful move.

You see Kim … wonderful, kind, compassionate Kim … is steely as fuck.

Sure he doesn’t shout or rant or gesticulate or throw tantrums.

Sure he doesn’t swear or throw toys out the pram or act aloof.

But he was stubborn as fuck about letting the work win.

He wouldn’t let ideas be killed on an individuals whim.

He wouldn’t let ideas be changed to satisfy personal ego.

He wouldn’t let ideas be diluted to appease a committee.

He wouldn’t let ideas be burdened by politics or agenda.

He wouldn’t let ideas be sold short by timelines or small mindedness.

He wouldn’t let anything win other than the purity of the idea.

I once watched him keep a campaign on the table after a client had spent 30 minutes saying it was wrong and they hated it. Better yet, he did it in a way where the client was OK with him doing it.

He didn’t bully, lie or manipulate to get his way.

He did it by listening.

Intently.

Then he slowly but methodically went through each of their issues and talked about the options he saw to solve them … always ensuring they elevated the idea he believed in rather than diluting it.

It was – quite simply – one of the most amazing pieces of creative negotiation I’ve ever seen.

Actually, negotiation is the wrong word.

Because it was never about dumbing down the idea to keep a version of it, it was always about solving the problems the clients had but in ways that ensured the idea would be able to shine.

[The photo at the end of this post is from that meeting, where Kim awkwardly humoured me and my demands to commemorate the moment of magic]

While Kim was – and is – a brilliant, brilliant creative, one of his greatest skills was the art of listening, because he always saw it as ammunition that allowed him to keep ideas safe.

While there are others that practice this – including a bunch at Colenso for example – a huge amount of the industry simply hears stuff.

Listening and hearing are very different.

Listening is understanding.

Not just the words, but the context and the details.

But hearing …

Well, hearing is simply about sound and that’s why we often end up with divisions.

A battle between ‘what I want’ and ‘what you want’.

A war between creativity and client.

No one wins.

Sure, someone may in the short-term, but not long.

That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or debate … nor does it mean you will always succeed in convincing someone to change their mind … but listening increases the odds.

It ensures the other party feels they have been understood.
It ensures your response is efficient and focused on the issue.
It ensures you are keeping the work on the table for as long as possible.

[And if he feels the demands being asked of the work undermine the power of the work, he’d just take it off the table and we would start again. And I believe in that to this day]

I have had the great pleasure of working with a whole host of brilliantly talented creative people.

People in adland, music, fashion, gaming and sport.

But the ones I find the most fascinating are the ones like Kim.

Who have the ability to feel like velvet, even when their focus is forged in iron.

Not because of manipulation, deceit or trickery.

But because they know, nothing is as forceful as the power of listening.



Life In A Lyric …

For years I have used song lyrics for creative brief inspiration.

Specifically, the Point Of View.

It’s been hugely useful to me because lyrics don’t just convey a story, they ignite emotion … which is especially useful when you want to capture the creatives imagination.

Mind you, I once used whole sections of lyrics from Bon Jovi’s Blood On Blood as my entire strategy presentation for Jeep and that didn’t go down so well.

Heathens … hahaha.

What’s interesting – at least to me – is when I was younger, I never really cared about lyrics. For me, it was always the guitar and the melody. Hell, I didn’t even know the lyrics to music I wrote myself … which, on hindsight, is probably a good thing, to be honest.

But since I hung up the guitar – or at least hung up playing it 8 hours every day – I have been captivated by lyrics. The stories and opinions they hold … and recently, while working on a project, I got reacquainted with the song Town Called Malice, by The Jam, which is above.

I remember when this song came out and I didn’t like it much.

Well, I loved the title – which I still do – but the rest was, blah.

I was into metal back then so I saw it as soft, sell-out, fancy suit shit.

Hahahahahahaha.

But 40 years later – fuck – I have learnt to love this song, especially for the lyrics.

Specifically, “stop apologising for the things you haven’t done”.

That’s a powerful line.

One that is even more pertinent today than it probably was in 1981.

I have to say, I am over people feeling they have to apologise for stuff they haven’t done.

OK, if they promised to take the rubbish out, I get it. But the rest can fuck off.

Life seems to be a continuous cycle of things we are supposed to have done … a slow force into complicity and parity.

Planning is particularly bad for this …

The books we should have read.

The people we should be following.

The methodologies we should all use.

Yes, there is a lot of good stuff you can get from the names constantly being suggested, but they are not a mandate. They certainly shouldn’t be the people or processes we have to apologise for having not followed.

Our job is to be interested in what others are interested in, not just what other planners are interested in. The naval gazing of the industry is insane.

On one level I do understand it.

Many planners feel they are imposters and so knowing what people they think are ‘real planners’ like, lets them feel a bit more validated to do what they are paid to do.

But here’s the thing, the people who think are ‘real strategists’ also feel like imposters.

Truly.

So what this means is the people who question their credentials are following the words and actions of people who also question their credentials. Which means the whole ‘things you should follow’ ends up being even more ridiculous.

While we should all be investing in our knowledge and awareness – and giving respect to those who keep doing work that tries to push things forward – that does not mean we should all be blindly doing the same thing as everyone else. If anything it means we need to be doing a whole bunch of different things from everyone else.

For example …

Read different books/magazine in different categories from different countries.

Follow people doing interesting things from different categories and cultures.

Be curious about people who make interesting things, not just talk about interesting things.

Learn from people who approach creativity in different ways to your own industry.

[Though I appreciate the irony of me telling people to follow what I do, haha]

All this is another reason why the industry needs to be hiring different sorts of people from different sorts of places and backgrounds … even though I’ve heard on the rare occasions that they do, they then tell them they need to be like the establishment to ‘be taken seriously’.

FFS!!!

While we all need to develop our craft, experience and knowledge … rather than apologising for having not done/read/followed the exact same person/process/book as every other planner – however good they may be – how about celebrating whatever it is you are doing, exploring and learning … because trying to find your own voice is a far more noble act than simply trying to replicate someone else’s.



One Day In September …
September 1, 2021, 8:00 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Anniversary, Comment, Dad, Emotion, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Singapore

Today is an important day, because back in 2007, Jill and I got married in Singapore.

We wanted it low-key [read: easy] so we hired out our favourite restaurant – Coriander Leaf – told all the locally invited guests it was an engagement dinner [we told our overseas guests what was going on or they wouldn’t have bothered coming] and then, when everyone turned up, we announced our true intentions and got married in front of our family and friends.

Yes I was wearing Birkenstocks.
[Mind you, so was Jill, albeit expensive Heidi Klum ones]

Yes, with hindsight, the Diet Coke Fountain was a stupid idea as everything fixed up and all the glasses got hidden by fizz and foam.

Yes, importing the wedding cake from Australia was a bloody nightmare.

But even with all that, it was a truly special day to celebrate the best decision of my life.

I still remember the joy my Mum had on her face.

As you can see from the photo below, she was so happy.

Not just that I was getting married … but I was getting married to Jill, who she adored in every possible way from the moment she met her.

Of course I wish Dad could have been there, but we took a photo of him with us and so in a way he was … and that made everything feel complete. What made it even better was Jill had her parents there, who hadn’t been in the same room together – as one lives in Australia and the other in Canada – for over 20 years, so it really was a family affair.

Marriage gets a tough wrap these days.

But for me, it has been amazing.

And while Jill and I were living together for years before we made it official, making it official did change things.

I don’t know why given not much changed.

And I don’t know if I can properly put into words what did change.

But for me, it led to a greater feeling of commitment … a deeper connection … a bit more wonderful. Now marriage is a deeply personal affair and people will have many different perspectives, but from mine, I can tell you it was – and remains – the best thing I have done.

Even more than buying Audi’s and Robot Dogs.

THAT’S how brilliant it is.

But while that day all those years ago is filled with wonderful moments, I have to say the one that sticks out the most is when my colleague, Angela, came to the restaurant straight from the gym … thinking it would be a couple of drinks before she could go home.

I love that she stayed when she realised what was going on.

I love that she stayed when she realised how she looked.

I love that she didn’t hit me when I mentioned it in my speech.

Because while she was mortified to turn up to a wedding in her post-gym sweats … ironically it made it even more perfect for us.

So thank you Angela.

But most of all, thank you Jill.

Happy anniversary my wonderful wife. I bloody love you.

[Even though I know you will have forgotten it’s our anniversary, haha]



Love Is Lazy …

I found this photo recently.

It’s a few years old, when we lived in London … but there’s something about it that just warms my heart.

Not just because it features my son – though that helps – but because it in a period of pandemic chaos, it shows how love can make everything OK.

Covid had just taken hold.

We were all confined to home.

No one was offering any clarity.

People were dying at unprecedented numbers.

And Otis desperately needed his hair washing.

However …

… he was also playing a video game he absolutely didn’t want to stop playing so – because his world had been turned completely upside down – his wonderful, kind, considerate Mum found a way for him to keep playing while she could do some hair washing.

Obviously it is an utterly ridiculous way to do things, but it’s my ridiculous.

A moment of twisted normality at a time where nothing felt normal whatsoever.

And while I appreciate this is an utterly indulgent photograph, I love the way he seems oblivious to his surroundings. His little legs stretched out to the tip of his toes. And a kitchen that has been rapidly turned into a school, a playroom and a hairdressers all at the same time.

While we were painfully aware of the privileged position we were in – from having an income to having a teeny garden to escape in – the fear of COVID was starting to take a hold which is why, as I look at that photo today, I realise how much my ridiculously beautifully family let me feel we were strong together at a point where everything was feeling like it was falling apart.