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


Be Metallica, Not The Eagles …

I was recently in a client meeting where we had a discussion about ‘scale’.

The person in question was suggesting – as many do – that the only way to achieve it was to make sure you offer something for everyone.

Now there’s two ways you can do that …

Literally offer something for everyone or be so bland that you don’t alienate anyone.

And when we had this discussion, it reminded me of the Ferdinand Porsche quote that – paraphrased – reads something like:

“Be everything to someone not something to everyone”.

But it was early in the morning for me.

I was talking to clients in America.

So instead, I gave the worst analogy I may have ever used …

I pointed out The Eagles are the best selling American band in history.

That their ‘easy listening’ songs were designed to literally appeal to the widest audience possible. That their repetitive approach has been used to reinforce their position.

Or lack of one.

However the second best selling American band of all time is Metallica.

OK, I’m biased, but no one can say their music is designed for mass appeal.

Even their more ‘audience friendly’ albums still targeted a particular type of music fan. A fan that is anti-mainstream and anti-easy listening.

And yet Metallica’s fierce focus on who they are and what they believe – matched with their desire to continually explore and experiment with formats and approaches for their music – has resulted in them attracting ever bigger audiences rather than chasing them.

But its even more than that …

In the fickle, fast-changing world of music, Metallica haven’t just been able to maintain their credibility and authenticity, they have managed to still be seen as a contemporary band.

A band that is more popular now than they’ve ever been, while not changing who they are, what they believe or who they’re for.

I finished this rant off with the words:

“Be Metallica, not The Eagles”.

Fortunately, given I was doing this call at stupid o’clock, people let it pass.

However, while the analogy may be bollocks, the reality isn’t.

We live in an industry that is increasingly falling into rules of how things should be done.

And there are some – without doubt.

But we are in danger of ignoring the power of culture and creativity in favour of box-ticking and formulas and yet it’s the brands and bands like Nike, Metallica, SKP-S, Kanye, Liquid Death who not only hold – and set – the cultural attention and narrative, but continue to fast-track growth and profit compared to a category who blindly follow a system designed to play more to the ‘safety’ of the middle rather than the power and influence of the edge.

I’m not saying it’s easy.

I’m not saying it’s not without risk.

I’m not saying it happens in a smooth, straight line.

But when you do it well … when you know who you are, who you’re for and what you believe, it’s definitely worth it, against pretty much every metric you can measure it against.

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When You’re Always On, You May Find You’re Always Off …

Social media.

Or for some, digital marketing.

Oh the terms and the tropes.

The guru’s and the chancers.

The rules and the frameworks.

The DTC brand successes and the DTC product commodification.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of social media marketing. I think – done in the right way – it can powerfully drive brand, business and fandom in ways many other forms of marketing can’t hope to reach.

There’s countless amazing examples out there, but underpinning all of them is the inconvenient truth that they’re based on an idea. It may not always be what the ad industry likes to call a ‘big idea’, but it’s an idea all the same.

Something that holds all it does together. Guides it. Shapes what it does. Gives it a reason to exist and add to culture rather than continually try to steal from it.

But the problem is these brands are still in the minority because the vast majority still practice what my beloved Martin Weigel refers to, “the continuous production of social landfill”.

There are countless reasons this occurring …

The belief it gives them ‘free’ advertising.
Their fear they may be left behind or left out.
The attempt to look and act relevant to the times.

But without doubt, the worst reason is ‘people really are interested in who we are and what we have to say’.

Oh my god, that’s the worst of all.

A deluded state that manifests itself into some of the worst behaviour and marketing you can get … liked and supported by those who either work for the company or want to.

So what we end up with is an ever-increasing production of sheer shit.

Pointless, mindless marketing filth that doesn’t so much scrape the barrel, but is the scrapings of the barrel.

Things like this …

What. Is. That?

Seriously, how deluded and desperate must you be to think this is the sort of content the World is waiting for.

Yes, I appreciate they have almost TWO MILLION followers but come on …

And they’ve even incorporated a way to ‘vote through emoji’ to allow their ‘fans’ to interact with the content.

To paraphrase a comment once made to me by a client … sometimes, the people who like your stuff are the people you don’t want liking your stuff.

Pity the poor social media people who have to manage this stuff.

I say pity, because surely they can’t think this is good?

Surely they are the human equivalent of a battery hen … held in a small room and told to keep finding ‘ideas’ to churn out as content.

Stuff that is the very embodiment of social media landfill.

An always on strategy that turns people off.

But my god, what if they think this stuff is good?

What if they believe people wait with baited breath for the latest piece of content they literally are churning out?

What if the client thinks it is driving ‘powerful user interaction metrics’?

I know Colgate Palmolive make many products.

Some of which have become brands that are very, very popular.

But maybe someone needs to tell them that just because people buy them, doesn’t mean people care about them … certainly outside of the environment they inhabit or in the detail Colgate finds fascinating.

Or to paraphrase another old client of mine:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

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Another Day, Another Postbox Post …

No, I don’t know what’s with all the postbox posts [even though in reality, there’s only been 2 in 16 years] but just like that old adage of ‘you wait for a bus and then 2 come at once’ … here is a second post about postboxes in a week.

First of all, DO NOT PANIC.

It is not as sentimental as yesterday’s.

Probably.

But recently someone sent me a photo of this …

Yes, that’s a sticker rather than a real ‘blue plaque’.

Yes, it’s about Danger Mouse rather than a real* historical figure.

But it’s still absolutely fucking awesome.

For those who don’t know what a blue plaque is a permanent sign installed in public places that commemorate a link between that specific location and a famous person, event, or a former building that serves as a historical marker.

[Yes, I did get that from Wikipedia]

For those who don’t know who Danger Mouse is … then I just feel sorry for you, because he’s the best. At least the 80’s version of him … not to mention his sidekick, Penfold – who a certain past commentator on this blog once said I had an alarming resemblance to.

Though he also once said that about the comedian Harry Hill … all because that I once turned up at a Coca-Cola event in a suit.

That said, when I look at a photo of that event – from 1996 – even I have to admit there is more than a passing resemblance to both of them. Though as tragic as that is, I ended up winning ‘best dressed’ for simply not wearing shit jeans and an ironic t-shirt, which pleased me no end but pissed off all the very glamorous female guests who were in attendance.

Anyway, if you need more info on Danger Mouse, please go here.

And to see me – I mean Penfold – please go here.

Or just look at this …

But the real reason I love this letterbox with the Danger Mouse blue circle as a sticker is that someone did it.

They decided it would be worth while doing.

Which means having the idea.
Designing it.
Getting it made.
Then going to the postbox on Baker Street in London – where Danger Mouse lives – and sticking it there.
And not just anywhere on the postbox, but low – where DM enters and leaves his place.

Some may say that’s madness.

Some may say that’s a waste of time and money.

But to me, that’s an act of wonderfulness.

A true commitment to craft, creativity and authenticity.

And what’s better is that while many may miss it, those who see it not only love it … but tell people about it. Which is a lot more than many of the multi-million, 48 sheet billboard, TV ads and digital DTC campaigns ever achieve.

So to whoever did this. Thank you.

You restored my faith in craft, commitment and ridiculousness.

And reignited my love of Danger Mouse. [But not Penfold]

__________________________________________________________________________

* Even though Danger Mouse was a fictional character, he lives in my memories and heart and that’s more than some living, breathing people … which means Danger Mouse is real to me. Deal with it.



Cowards Are Oppressors …

Many years ago, I did a campaign for Australian ‘youth’ radio station, Triple J.

Triple J was a government funded radio station, but what set it apart was that it had a mandate to play new artists, preferably Australian, who were definitely not part of the mainstream crowd.

Think John Peel, but Australian.

What I loved about them was how much they divided opinion.

To some they were hope. To others they were noise.

But as we delved deeper, it became apparent the people who thought it was noise were basically proud the followers of the mainstream. The focus-group designed. The beige and the blunted. The average.

Now I appreciate that sounds massively judgemental … but what I found interesting was how companies had basically messed with the meaning of average in a bid to make more cash from customers.

In the old days, average was an achievement.

The meeting point between quality and cost.

Democratisation.

Progression.

Access.

But now average wasn’t that at all.

It was mainstream mediocrity.

Designed for easy, passive appeal. Mindlessness. A strategy of making beige act like gold.

Which led to the point of view of the work: The enemy of average.

Directly targeting anything that had been designed to dumb down rather than lift up.

We got into all sorts of mischief …

From placing warning stickers on all ‘easy listening’ artists in HMV [that saw us being threatened with legal action] … to running ads during mainstream TV to tell viewers they’re being murdered by averageness … to images of mainstream mediocre products being placed in public toilets so you could literally piss on them. [Beige Volvo anyone?]

And while this may all sound madness – and this was the 90’s so tastes were very different – we knew the only way to attract more listeners was to ensure we did it in a way that made our existing fans see we were fighting for what we believe, rather than pandering to popularity.

The old reverse psychology trick.

And it worked because ultimately this was just an extension of who they truly were.

Stubborn, opinionated, mischievous, audacious and uncompromising.

A teen who was very comfortable in playing with the uncomfortable.

And what this did was help build the cult of the brand … helping Triple J enter a new phase of growth while never looking like they were chasing fame.

Of course, they’re not the only ones who have pulled this off.

Playstation did it … NIKE have done it … Supreme do it … but the key to pulling this off successfully is knowing who you are and knowing who you’re for and frankly, not many can brands – or agencies – say that, especially these days.

What makes this even more amazing is how many agencies and companies bang on about their authenticity and purpose … but the problem is they can’t see what they’ve become: a mediocrity pleaser machine.

Of course the signs are there if you just scratch the surface.

Generic, mass audiences.
An aversion for sacrifice.
A desire to remove any sharp edges or opinion.

And while many think making a brand as easy to buy is the greatest way to achieve success, the thing they need to remember is the future goes nowhere in the hands of cowards.



Attention To Detail Is A Not A Cost, But A Commercial Advantage …

The commercial exploitation of the environment crisis by brands makes me ill.

For all their claims of doing things to ‘save the planet’, the reality is:

1. It’s not.
2. It’s focused more on how they can make money from it.

Putting aside the fact many of these conglomerates have actually added to the environmental crisis rather than taken it away, many are now trying to burden the general public with the blame and the responsibility to sort it all out.

Now of course the general public have to shoulder a huge amount of responsibility, but seeing companies try to look innocent when they have resisted – and continue to resist – major change is revolting.

From a personal point of view, one of the companies who I feel have been one of the worst for exploiting situations for profit is Unilever.

While there are some amazing people who work there … while the company talks a great game about being a ‘purpose’ driven company … you don’t have to look too far to see the organisation have profited from promoting racism, sexism and exploitation.

A few weeks ago, I got sent this:

As you can see, the bottom shelf holds a bunch of Persil Automatic washing powder.

Now Persil has long had a role in British society that has transcended the category. Their iconic ‘dirt is good’ campaign helped celebrate the benefits of kids getting dirty in life.

Of course it was self-serving, because the dirtier they get, the more washing powder you need, but it was deftly handled and had a point of view that resonated deeply.

However over the years, they’ve tried to evolve that message to have a more ‘purpose driven stance’ and things like the environment have become a focus. Which explains why they have written USE LESS in massive letters at the top of the box.

However – and hilariously – it seems no one realised, or cared, that at first glance it says USELESS … which is probably a far better description for how Persil are really dealing and committing to the climate crisis.

So to whoever did this – or didn’t realise this – I salute you.

Not just for your mischief/stupidity, but for proving there is still truth in advertising, even when they’re trying to say a lie.