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


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.



It’s Not Just Phil Collins Who Survived Against All Odds …

A year ago today, Jill, Otis, Rosie and I left our beautiful family home – that we only had bought and moved into 6 months earlier – to get on a plane for the first time in over a year and fly to the other side of the planet to start a new life in New Zealand.

Now of course, because Kiwiland is so fucking far away from everywhere, it took us 2 days to get here which means we’ve not officially been here a year … but if you will excuse the early anniversary, it still something I wish to celebrate.

Despite having moved countries more times than anyone should be allowed to … the build up to this move was the most stressful we’d ever had.

Of course, the reason for that was bloody COVID … but with changing rules, changing flights and changing timelines, it felt like an impossible dream when we boarded the plane 12 months ago today.

Then there was the 2 weeks of quarantine we had in Hamilton.

While it was restrictive, it was actually an amazing way to settle in a country because whether we liked it or not, we were not allowed to do anything.

Normally when we land in a country, it’s mayhem trying to learn the areas, find a house, buy a car. But this time it was easy, mainly because – in a moment of madness – we had bought a house and a car when we were in England.

While that might sound mad, the car was easy because it was simply the latest version of the car I bought in the UK. Which was the same as I bought in the US. Even down to the colour.

As for the house … OK, that was bonkers, but sadly for our bank manager, that wasn’t the first time we’d done it.

But it all worked out.

Not just in terms of house and car, but life.

We’re settled.

Otis loves his school.
Jill loves we live in the trees.
Rosie loves she can watch birds all day.
I love the talented mob I get to work with each day.

Colenso has done some lovely stuff – but it’s only the start – but we’ve won some global business, awards and a bunch of friends [not to mention the odd bitter enemy] but even more importantly, is that I’ve lucked in with the people I get to work with each day.

What a top bunch they are … with a special mention for my wonderful team who are a bunch of beautifully opinionated, creative and interesting assholes.

Just as I like them. [Most of the time, hahaha]

In fact the only thing that has been horrible has been the timezone … which means when I’m doing my Metallica duty or Gentle Monster duty, it ends up being so early or late I could cry.

Actually, for the first few weeks I probably did in shock … but now it’s second nature and they’ve all been ace. Hell, even the 4+ months of lockdown didn’t dampen our spirit.

Sure, we had travelled half way around the World to end up back where we started … but COVID here was very different to COVID in the UK.

Here there was a plan with clarity and communication.

And while people here say there’s a bunch of stuff the government could have done better – which, in some cases, is fair – compared to what we experienced in the UK, it’s all A+.

While we know we won’t be in NZ forever, we do love it here.

We are so appreciative of the chance we have been given … even more so when so many Kiwi’s have found it so hard to come back. NZ has been generous, supportive, open and encouraging. Hell, not only did they let me meet Noel Edmonds, James Cameron and brilliant Jacinda, they even looked after us when we all individually found ourselves having to go into hospital. In terms of ensuring you can deal with the sadness of not seeing friends and loved ones, NZ did it with absolute bloody panache.

I hope in our time here, we are seen as contributing to the nation. We want to do that so much. Celebrate it. Honour it. And – where possible – help it. Not just so we can learn and know more about this special place, but so we can say thank you for letting us be here.

Happy [almost] anniversary NZ.

You might wish it hadn’t happened, but we’re glad it did.



If Companies Want To Know About ‘Agile’, Ask My Son …

3 different nationalities.
4 different countries [In 4 different continents]
5 different homes.
4 different schools.
Two major long lockdowns.
All of this in just 6 – but soon to be 7 – short years.

And yet despite all that change … all that waving goodbye and learning to say new hellos … he remains a happy, curious, cheeky and compassionate kid.

And while he loved his life in China, America and the UK … he is blossoming in NZ.

Sure, some of that is because he has been able to get back into some sort of routine, meet new friends and play with other kids his own age – at least until Delta struck and he got locked down with his parents for weeks on end – but it’s more than that …

Outdoor life is a way of life here.

Being outside is no longer a conscious choice.

The line between indoors and outdoors is now very slim.

No need to change clothes. No need to wear shoes. Spontaneity is allowed to flow which – let’s be honest – is exactly how a kid should be able to live their life.

I’ve lived in similar environments before … in Australia and America for example … but whether it’s because I’m older or now live in a bloody treehouse or have a kid of my own, I appreciate it so much more.

Watching him be able to run around outside is a real privilege.

Of course, for people born here, that’s a normality … but I have lived in environments where that’s not the case, which is why even seeing him watch his iPad in the sun is something I don’t take for granted.

We cannot discount the importance of being able to play outside, but sadly many governments and councils seem to.

Viewing it as ‘a favour’ rather than a fundamental right.

Playing outside helps kids in so many ways.

Bond … learn … imagine … express … play … explore … compete … respect.

It’s not a ‘waste of time’, it creates a deeper foundation for life.

An ability to think outside of lines and others definitions.

Giving kids an environments where they can be outside is basically an investment in a countries future.

A nation of curious, interested, healthy people.

But not everyone gets this.

Some actively try to stop this.

Often people of immense privilege who either associate outdoor life as something for either the elite or the rough.

Fortunately NZ does not see it this way.

They revel and celebrate it.

They have the best parks I’ve ever seen in my life.

Parks made to enjoy and encourage kids to push their boundaries.

A new discovery of what you’re capable of with every visit.

And while for most kids it’s about developing, for Otis it’s also about grounding.

A place he can feel is his.

A connection to where he lives in a way he’s not had before.

Because while he is young, I do not underestimate what he has been through.

Fuck, there’s people I have worked with who have literally freaked out when asked to move office desks … and yet here’s my kid, who has moved countries, homes and friends and still embraces the possibilities of every situation.

So much of that is down to his brilliant Mum who has helped that change happen in the most comfortable, seamless way … but it still requires a mindset to look at what you’ll gain rather than just what you lose.

And while I know one day I’ll no doubt be dragging him off for another adventure somewhere else on the planet [but don’t worry, it won’t be for ages. Probably] I want you to know that I love you from tip to toe and let you know I’m so, so proud to be your dad.

Thank you Otis, you’re a little legend.



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.