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


Connect Don’t Communicate …

As many of you know, I’m quite the emotional guy.

[OK, I get it … that’s an understatement. Let’s leave it there]

But while this can sometimes result in me having an ‘Elton John’ moment [™ Elton John] I have always been a huge believer in the value and importance of empathy.

Part of this is because my Mum always told me to be interested in what others are interested in, but as I got more and more into my planning career, I realised that if you can truly understand the feelings and emotions someone is experiencing, it enables you to make work that others will also feel and resonate with.

A perfect example was this work we did ages ago for Nike in China.

It had already been decided the idea for the global 2012 Olympics Campaign was going to be Greatness. The problem was that when we spoke to kids all over China, they didn’t feel they were ever able to refer to themselves as great.

They felt that was a term saved for the chosen few. The people who the government deemed as having done things that raised the entire nations profile and success.

Of course they didn’t articulate it like this … we got there by spending time with them and slowly pulling away the layers of codes and confusion so we could understand what they wanted to say rather than what was being said.

Or said another way, we wanted to understand rather than get answers.

Now I am not denying it took a while … and I also accept being an Olympic campaign, we had the time and the money to do things right. But the thing is this rigour was worth it … because not only did it turn into an incredible campaign … not only did it become China’s most successful ever campaign … it helped changed attitudes towards what greatness is and allowed millions of kids to feel they could feel valued and valuable.

This is the work.

The reason I say this is because for the past few months, I’ve been working with The University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project in exploring new ways to use creativity to engage and deeply resonate with audiences.

Thanks to the work of Sir Richard Faull, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland and Nuala Gregory, a fellow of the National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries – also at The University of Auckland – we have explored and experimented with a whole host of different creative formats to identify which one can create the best conditions for connection.

The findings have been astounding.

While the vast majority of communication spend goes towards television, digital and outdoor advertising … none of these had the same impact on audiences as the power of the poem.

In fact, when poems were used as the content for television, digital and outdoor, the increase in engagement went up on average 13.3%.

THIRTEEN!

OK, I know that may not sound a lot on first impression, but when you consider last year, companies spent SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIVE BILLION DOLLARS GLOBALLY on advertising … if this can improve connection to potential audiences by 13%, then it has huge commercial opportunity.

[And by that, I mean for brands, creativity and the University of Auckland]

Now I suppose on one level, none of this should be a surprise.

Rap is a kind of poetry.

A way to communicate that’s felt as well as heard.

But while we have started to explore this, our focus has been on poetry and the results, as I detailed above, have been fascinating.

Sir Richard believes this may be heavily influenced by the challenges the World has faced over the past few years. Where the feeling of isolation of helplessness has created an yearning for any sort of emotional connection. And while TV may have their manifestos, they often come over as contrived … whereas poems have a fragility to them that enables them to better resonate and connect to audiences.

For example … of the literally thousands of poems tested, this was one that achieved one of the highest scores, despite being from an anonymous author.

Now this mountain I must climb
Feels like the world upon my shoulders
But through the clouds I see love shine
It keeps me warm as life grows colder

While it is deliberately ambiguous, it appeared to connect to audiences as they saw it as capturing the struggles they felt in life. Where there is still an expectation for progress and yet the conditions people find themselves having to deal with are increasingly harsh and difficult.

Other poems that resonated – and follow a similar theme to the previous example, except it is by contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong – include this:

And when your fears subside
And shadows still remain
I know that you can love me
When there’s no one left to blame
So never mind the darkness
We can still find a way

As well as a piece from his work entitled ‘Life’, which has a much darker theme:

Loneliness is my hiding place
Breast feeding my self
What more can I say?
I have swallowed the bitter pill

We are still working on the research but have set up an instagram that lists the poems that have tested particularly well.

I would love it if you could visit the page and let me know how the poems affect you. If they do.

Now I appreciate this leaves me open to all sorts of ridicule.

And I assure you that I am not trying to suggest poems are the future of effective advertising.

This is simply a project to see if there are techniques that allow us to better connect emotionally to audiences without necessarily needing to spend months in the field meeting endless people.

While I am part of this work, it is ultimately the property of Auckland University.

Fortunately, they have said I can promote the work because they would love to have more respondents take part. So if you are interested in discovering more – and helping see where this creative adventure could lead, can I ask you to sign up here.

That said, I would recommend you do it today … because studies have found April 1st is the optimal day to get people to sign up to ‘research’ that is actually just some 80’s song lyrics from Foreigner, Guns n’ Roses and Queen.

Have a great day. I know I will.



Ignorance Is Stupid …

Congratulations on surviving the first week back of this blog.

Remember, the good news is there’s no more posts till next Tuesday thanks to yet another holiday in New Zealand. If I knew I’d be having this big a break at the start of the year, I’d have moved here 6 years ago when I first had the chance.

It’s utterly mad, which is the perfect segue to another example of madness.

Have a look at this:

That, my friends, is apparently a genuine tweet.

Someone believes a video made by Mr Beast somehow proves the creator community is the ultimate in power, influence and success because – according to them – it got more views in less time than the original Netflix show.

How many flaws can we spot in that statement?

Look, I’m not doubting the creator community can have incredible influence over culture.

I’m not doubting the creator community can attract incredible amounts of ‘views’.

I’m not doubting the creative credentials of Mr Beast [who I do enjoy following].

But apart from the fact the Mr Beast video actually took 10 years and 7 weeks to make as it required Squid Games to be written, produced and streamed prior to Mr Beast being approached by a company to ‘re-create it’ for his channel … not to mention it didn’t make nearly as much money, or have as great an impact on sales of Van’s as the original … literally copying something someone else created is the absolute opposite of what ‘creator community’ is supposed to mean.

Don’t get me wrong, the creator community is a brilliant thing.

I genuinely love it.

But there are millions of people who are putting in so much effort to make ‘content’ and often only end up with a few likes rather than real revenue. And even those who do make it big, still earn less than the biggest stars of ‘traditional’ film making – so the promise of the community may not be as bright as some think it is.

At least right now.

I’ve blanked the name of the person who wrote the tweet to protect their delusion, but it kind of reinforces my post from last year about the fine line between entrepreneurs and parasites.

In the 80/90’s, a number of UK up and coming comedian created a group called ‘Comic Strip ‘.

The comedians were Rik Mayall, Jennifer Saunders, Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders and Alexei Sayle.

So basically the foundation of British comedy television for the next 30+ years.

Anyway, Comic Strip was basically a creative vehicle for them to make a bunch of programs for Channel 4.

One of them was called Bad News, a ‘rockumentary’ about a fictitious heavy metal band trying to hit the big time. Yes, the premise sounds awfully like the movie ‘Spinal Tap’ … however Bad News came out the year before that seminal movie, so it’s just a bizarre coincidence.

So in the show, the guitarist, Vim Fuego – played by Ade Edmondson – tells the interviewer that he is a better guitarist than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

His reason for saying that is because he could play the solo to Stairway To Heaven when he was 13 but Jimmy couldn’t even write the song until he was 26.

Later in the program, he said John Lennon had visited him in a dream and gave him a song. He decided to call it Imogen. And when the interviewer said the name – and the melody – were suspiciously like the Lennon classic, Imagine … he claimed he’d never heard of it.

Of course, all of this was supposed to be great comedy, but with views like the twitter writer above, apparently it was simply an example of future human delusion.



If Everything Is An Experience, You Better Make Yours Great …

I’ve written a lot about experience in the past.

How important it is.

How it can drive brand value and growth.

How it can create distinction and differentiation in crowded categories.

I’ve also talked about how badly so much of it is done.

That it’s more about consistency than excellence.

That it isn’t a new approach, just a new profit centre.

That many aspire to everything average than some things spectacular.

It blows my mind what some agencies and companies think is ‘an experience’.

Especially when you compare it to people who genuinely ‘get it’.

Whether it’s certain luxury brands or my client, SKP-S in Beijing.

Which is why I love the picture at the top of this page.

At the time, the person on the runway was 62 years old.

SIXTY TWO.

This was taken on the first of 3 nights of performing to 68,000 paying people.

So over 200,000 in total.

In South America.

Think about that for a second.

OK, so the person in question is Brian Johnson … lead singer of rock band AC/DC.

But let’s also remember we’re talking about a group of pensioners.

Literally.

Yes, I appreciate there are all-sorts of factors/considerations/contexts/excuses you could use to explain why they can achieve that sort of response when brands – with all their experience models and big budgets – can’t.

But the one thing AC/DC understand is if you want to keep people coming back, you need to focus on creating a seminal moment for your audience not average consistency.

It’s why I always ask ‘experience strategists’ about their life rather than just their work. I want to know what their frame of references are for experience. Because frankly – and I appreciate I’m being a massive snob here – if it doesn’t include festivals, theatre, art, music, retail, museums … then I don’t know if we’re ever going to share the same ambitions.

Because while I appreciate ‘average but consistent’ has value to some organisations, I would rather drink bleach than advocate that as a brand goal.

Not simply because I have an aversion to average.

But because when you do experience right – which means knowing who you are and who your customers are – the profits extrapolate. See, I’m not totally selfish.



China Is More Than Just Big Numbers And So Is Singles Day …

As I’ve said many times, I miss China.

I miss everything about it. Except the pollution.

It was – and remains – an incredible important and special place in my life, personally and professionally, and I’m so grateful I get to still do work there.

That said, there’s days where I miss it more than most and today is one of those.

Singles day – because of the date 11.11 – has become the single biggest shopping day on the planet. Bigger than the global Black Friday and New Years Day sales put together.

I have had individual clients sell US$100 million+ of product on that single day … and as huge as that is, it’s nothing compared to some other brands. You see, for all the talk of Singles Day being the luxury brand bonanza, the reality is it’s the more mundane things that sell in far bigger quantities.

There’s lots of reasons for that, of which money is only a small part.

That aside, the whole thing has become an extravaganza … even featuring international celebs [before they were in disrepute] in the lead-up … and yet, while it has finally been ‘discovered’ by many in the West, it still blows my mind at how little they really know, or care, about what started it, what drives it and what it represents to millions in the Middle Kingdom.

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised, because where China is concerned, the West still prefers to be deliberately ignorant to the goings on there … preferring instead to either ignore anything until is comes to the West, or just repeating what they’ve read somewhere without delving more into the culture or the history.

And that’s what I saw a lot there.

In fact, it’s a lot of what I saw wherever I lived, especially in Asia.

The preference for headlines rather than the details.

Easy wins instead of earning your rights.

Acceptance only when it was localised.

What scares me is this attitude seems to be extending beyond just knowing other cultures … but approaches to planning.

Answers rather than listening.
Comments rather than thinking.
Responses rather than considering.
Generalisations rather than nuance.
Complicity rather than a point of view.

I appreciate we live in a world where there is commercial benefit in speed. And while that doesn’t automatically mean it is wrong, it only works if you have people with the real experience and knowledge to be able to answer the problems properly.

There’s a massive difference between someone looking things up on Google and someone who appreciates the nuance and layers that goes behind opinion, beliefs and behaviour.

And yet too often these people don’t get valued by their companies.

Viewed as too costly … when the experience and knowledge they have is the difference between resonating with culture or shouting at people.

Or said another way, doing work that is for people rather than about them.

It blew my mind how little Western markets, and companies, valued my – and everyone else I know who spent considerable time in Asia – experience. I constantly felt a sense of distain from those who had never been there … as if the work and culture didn’t count for anything … despite the history, the economy, the culture and the technology.

Fuck, I had someone recently ask me if I knew TikTok was a Chinese company. A person who claims to be ‘an expert’ in digital. You should have seen their face when I told them that not only did I know that, but it had been around in China for years before it had come to the West.

This does not mean you have to live in another country to care about it. But generally, you do have to if you want to have any way of understanding it beyond the headlines and the superficial clickbait.

Which is why in the next few weeks if someone tries to present you a deck entitled, ‘Singles Day: all you need to know’ … just ask them what the premise is.

If they only talk about big numbers – and, god forbid – something to do with Confucius, run the other way. And if you think I’m joking, I can tell you about the time I was in Beijing and sat in a meeting full of CEO’s and the guest speaker started talking about his proprietary strategy for using Twitter, until it was pointed out that the government ban it there.

This guest was the head of strategy of a major ‘global’ digital agency.

Whether you like it or not, China is vital to your business.

Might be directly or indirectly, but it can’t be ignored, even if your ego has to take the hit.

The fact I have to write this in 2021 is mind-blowing, but here it goes:

Hire Chinese talent.
Value Chinese talent.
Learn from Chinese talent.

I promise you they’ll be able to help you and tell you stuff that is far more insightful and valuable that someone writing a presentation on Singles Day from information sourced via Twitter or the Daily Mail.

Love you China. Miss you.



When Is A Logo Not A Logo?

Well I told you I wouldn’t be writing any posts for a while and I have to say, I’m as surprised as you that I managed to stick with it.

Obviously a lot has happened in the past few weeks – including learning how nothing tests how good your family relationships is, like being cooped-up in a small hotel room together for 2 weeks, 24/7 – but we’re happy, excited and up for adventure.

Before I begin, I have to say how amazing the New Zealand organisation is.

So clear, consistent and compassionate.

For someone who had a very privileged covid lockdown period, I was amazed how much it had affected me when I came to a place where I didn’t have to worry about mad decisions and u-turns.

Anyway we got through quarantine, already bought houses and cars [I know, I know] so this week is about stretching our legs, getting Otis a school, ensuring Rosie – the cat – gets to complain as much as she likes and generally getting our bearings of the city before starting at Colenso.

But that’s all for another day, today I want to kick-start the regularity of this blog with this piece of rubbish.

Now I know the re-design of the Burger King logo is not new news.

And neither is what I will be writing about, as I talked about it when it happened.

But while I like many things about the new/old BK design, the thing I like most is how perfect it is for the emoji universe.

Seriously, look at it. It’a the most emoji thing ever.

Sure, I could talk about how clever the B and K fit together.
Sure, I could talk about how I’ve not seen a logo that made me smile since since SONOS.
Sure, I could talk about how it’s as squidgy as sinking your teeth into a Whopper.

But I’m not. I’m going to say how perfectly it would go with other fast food emoji’s already available.

🍔 🍟 🥤

Come on … you so can see it fitting in with that group can’t you.

Now imagine how it could be used to communicate BK’s food menu?

Or, better yet, how it could be used for TikTok/Whatapp order functionality?

Imagine being able to order BK delivery simply by emoji on whatever platform you’re on?

When I was at Deutsch, they tried something like it for Taco Bell using Slack.

Obviously it wasn’t in emoji form and there’s questions how successful it actually was – but it showed there’s more ways to order food than simply going on a website or app.

If that wonderful BK logo was turned into the emoji it begs to be, it could be a really interesting way to drive delivery using the platforms and iconography of culture.

McDonald’s had to pay Travis Scott millions to deepen their connection with culture. BK could do it in an emoji. Their emoji.

OK, I know that is easier said than done and emoji’s are carefully controlled, but given BK’s love of trying to be controversial to be noticed, here is something they could do that has a real benefit and value to all, not just the BK PR department.

Maybe.

I also know some people are slagging the logo off.

Saying it makes the brand look as old as their food or that they need to get their stores looking clean before relaunching their brand design. But apart from those people making the classic mistake of being subjective rather than objective … I’d love to see the work they’ve done recently that proves their actions rather than their words.

God, that was feisty wasn’t it?

I’m definitely back and rested.

But all that aside …

While it’s really nice to see a brand using design to be both distinctive and authentic – versus the corporately beige approach that seems to be the norm for so many – I really hope they see the opportunity for it to be more more than just a static image. Because I have a feeling if they embraced the way culture uses social and platforms, that logo could be more than a branding device, but something that dramatically drives revenue.

You’re welcome BK.