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


Create Change, Not Ads …

One of the reasons I always loved Colenso was their approach to advertising.

Rather than always make the ‘ad’ the solution – or worse, use ads to promote the problem – they used creativity to solve the challenge in front of them and then created brilliant advertising to amplify awareness of whatever solution they’d come up with.

I’d talked about this approach in a presentation I did way back in 2008 for PFSK in Singapore.

We had just launched Sunshine and I was talking about the difference between solutions and ad solutions … all while Colenso had found a way to bridge both.

They used this ‘double dipping’ creative approach for everything.

Treehouse Restaurant for Yellow Pages.
Asscam for Levi’s.
Play for Spark.
Tally for State Insurance.
X-Ray Cast for Anchor.
Speed Dial for Volkswagen.
MyHooman for Pedigree
Brewtrolium for DB Export.
K9FM for Pedigree.

There’s too many examples to write about, and now I’m at the agency that did all this brilliance.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen this approach in action almost every day.

Of course it doesn’t always work … and it doesn’t always get bought … but the idea of bringing audacious solutions to problems rather than just audacious advertising is something pretty infectious.

There are a few really exciting things on the table, but recently we launched something – with our client Spark – that doesn’t just excite me, but makes me so proud I’m going to break my habit and actually write about it.

I know, who am I?

Beyond Binary is our way to create a better internet. A more inclusive internet.

In conjunction with our client, Spark – and working alongside rainbow communities – we developed a piece of code that anyone can download and easily add to their website.

What this code does is change the field formats on websites so they no longer only offer Male or Female options.

While to many this may seem a small thing, to the Trans and Non-Binary community – of which we are talking millions – it is important. Not simply because it represents them being seen and valued by organisations, but because it stops them being forced to misidentify who they are to fit in with established internet protocols.

In addition to the code, we made a film [see below] to help communicate why this is important for the non-binary community and business … as well as a website where you can download the code, learn how to add it to your existing site, hear stories from people who are affected by this situation every day and even access a pre-written presentation you can use to show your bosses why they need to do this.

A lot of people spent a lot of time working on this – which is why I was so thrilled when Campaign Asia wrote such a lovely piece about it.

I am not saying this because they used a competitor campaign to highlight how good ours is – though that helps, hahaha – but because they got it.

The understood exactly why we did it and how we did it … and that’s important because we sweated this. A lot.

Obviously we’re very proud of Beyond Binary but the key is getting companies to take part … so if you read this blog and work for a company with a website, please can I ask you to get involved. The more inclusive we make the internet, the better it is for everyone.

Thank you Colenso for being stupid enough to bring me over.
Thank you Spark for making this actually happen.
Thank you to the communities for helping and trusting us to do this right.
Thank you to anyone who takes part.

This is why it’s so important …




We Live In An Upside Down World …

A while back I was interviewed by Bloomberg Business Week.

I know … what the fuck eh?

And more amazingly, it’s not the first time.

OK, so it has taken them 5 years to forget what a stupid mistake they made the first time, but they asked me what I felt was wrong with modern marketing.

I thought about it for a while.

Let’s be honest, there’s many things I could say … but after a while, I felt I had it worked out.

It’s the image at the top of this post.

Too many clients saying no to good ideas and too many agencies saying yes to bad ones.

There are many reasons for this but underpinning them all is a lack of trust and a blind belief in formats and processes.

Or said another way: Ego and confidence.

Either too much of it or not enough.

Of course, people will say adland have got what they deserved.

That they were indulgent and never cared about their clients business.

Which is – frankly – bullshit.

Not just because that abdicates any responsibility of the clients who hired the agency … gave the brief … and approved the work, but also because I’ve never known an agency who do not give a shit about their clients achieving success.

However somewhere along the line, things have changed 180 degrees and now we’re in this weird situation where everything is upside down … with the great irony being in this new world order of marketing, we’re making less work that is impacting cultures attitudes and behaviour and building fewer brands people give a shit about.

And yet despite this, both parties are carrying on, reframing the situation so they can both feel they’re doing the right thing.

It’s a bit like this scene in Spinal Tap where the bands manager attempts to reframe why they’re playing to 1500 seat theatres when on their previous tour, they were playing to 15,000 people in arenas.

Now please don’t mistake this as a ‘poor agency’ post.

Nor a ‘clients are evil’ bitchfest.

All I am saying is the best work and results always come from parties who trust each other, are open and honest with each other and want/value the same thing.

It’s truly that simple.

It’s why, for example, the Wieden and Nike relationship has not only stood the test of time, but has also consistently made great work.

That doesn’t mean there’s not debate, discussion and, at times, bloody arguments [for example the 3+ years I took the same idea into the same client every month to try and get them to say yes because I thought they were missing a massive opportunity] … but it does mean the conversations are about how to make the best work, not the easiest.

And while that is a rare relationship with a rare body of work, the principles of getting to that position are not that difficult.

However today, we seem to be seeing more and more clients choosing agencies on complicity rather than creativity. Dictating what they want and how they want it rather than identifying problems they want their agency to solve in interesting ways.

They may not realise they’re doing that, they may not want to do that … but they’re doing that, reinforced by countless ‘guru’ dot-to-dot strategies that seem designed to build the guru’s business than the clients who follow it.

What this has resulted in is an attitude where some clients think any agency who has a different – but informed – point of view is out to rip them off, which is hilarious given thinking differently is literally why you hire an agency.

The whole situation is horrible.

No one wins

No relationships gets built.

Instead we have clients using processes and procurement to dictate and control what they want and we get agencies fighting for the chance to do it, because they’ve sold the value of creativity so far down the river, that the only thing they can offer is speed.

What a waste of opportunity, potential and talent on all sides.

Thank god not everyone is like this.

Thank god there’s people, companies and agency relationships who demonstrate what you can achieve together when you trust each other. When you want the best for each other. When you are transparent and honest with each other.

Enough to say yes when it’s easier to say no.

And no, when it’s easier to say yes.



The People We Have To Be Most Afraid Of Are The Ones Who Think They Are Strong …

I’m reading and hearing more and more people position themselves as some sort of elite force … because the pain, hardship and obstacles others face, didn’t affect them.

Except – as the tweet by Daniel above shows – it did.

It’s happening everywhere.

From that prick Piers Morgan claiming he is in someway responsible for the brilliant achievement of Emma Raducanu through to certain members of the marketing community who acknowledge there’s many barriers people face in the industry, but then add how they were still able to succeed … unsubtly insinuating their talent is so exceptional, they got to the top despite all the obstacles others say “holds them back”, conveniently ignoring the fact they’re white, educated to hell and privileged as fuck.

I’m over it.

There’s so many people out there who face challenges the majority of us will never appreciate.

Never understand.

And while that doesn’t mean the achievements of anyone should be dismissed, the assumption that everyone is playing by the same rules and contexts is total bullshit.

Which is why those who put others down by saying ‘they faced challenges and they turned out alright’ are missing the point … both in terms of the effect their actions and behaviours had on their wellbeing and the definition of what success has to be.

We’re all fighting demons and challenges only we know about.

So by all means be proud of what you’ve done, but don’t use that to then backhandedly dismiss the achievements of others – especially when they’re not really comparable in terms of context, category or celebration.

Past or present.

Have a great weekend.



Fempowerment Fails …

Years ago I worked on the shampoo brand Sunsilk.

I know. Me.

A bald bloke.

Hahahahahahahaha.

Back then, it was in a two brand fight for dominance with Pantene.

They went back and forth trying to get one over the over.

Apparently the brands had legally agreed how each one could show the ‘shine’ of the hair they washed in TV ads. A slight deviation that allowed each one to build their own distinctive look.

Back when I was on it, albeit for 2 mins, Sunsilk was a big, mature brand.

A powerhouse.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw this:

What in gods name is that?

What is it?

It’s like the worst Barbie ad I’ve ever seen.

An ad that claims to ‘rethink’ pink but doesn’t really rethink anything.

Oh they may think they are, but the people behind this need to know you can’t just say pink now represents possibilities, future, strength and shiny [gotta get those haircare ad cues in there, even if it makes even less sense to the premise of the ad] … you actually have to make it mean that.

It’s a commitment.

A focus.

Acts beyond advertising.

So sadly, when you make an ad so bubblegum it looks like the bastard love child of the movie, Legally Blonde and a packet of original Hubba Bubba, you’re not really going to convince anyone.

On the positive, they cop out by saying ‘pink is whatever we make it’ and so I would like to tell the people at Unilever and Sunilk they did exactly that, because they have made pink brown.

Shitty brown.

Am I being mean?

Yep.

But then this is a multi-billion dollar company who has profited by putting women across Asia in cultural jail by promoting white skin as the right skin … used COVID to maximise profits for their antiseptic products and continually used stereotypes to promote it’s products … so I don’t have much sympathy for them.

Especially when they’re now trying to connect to young women by saying ‘pink’ is powerful while using all the same tropes, styles and themes that means what they’re actually communicating is ‘pink is the same old girly cliche they’ve been profiting from, for decades’.

There’s some absolutely incredibly talented people at Unilever.

Including some very good friends of mine.

There’s also some brilliant systems and processes within the organisation.

Sadly, there’s also a blinkered reliance on some questionable research methodologies, which results in a lack of self awareness so they end up with work like this.

They have done some brilliant work in the past.

Some truly brilliant.

But – in my opinion – not so much right now. Made worse with the sort of underlying messages that undermine people rather than elevate them.

If it wasn’t for their huge distribution and pricing power, it would be interesting to see what would happen to the brand.

But the thing is I want them to do well.

I want them to make work that changes and positively impacts culture.

They’re a huge spender on advertising.

They have the ability to change how culture feels and how the industry is perceived.

A Unilever that does great advertising is a Unilever that will have positive knock-on effects in a whole host of other areas and industries.

I’d even be willing to help them – for free, for a time – if their starting point was about building change through truth rather than their messed-up, manipulative version of purpose.

However given they made this ad after saying they wanted to stop the stereotypes in their advertising, it appears their view of reality is more blinkered than a racehorse.



More Than The MD, But The Boss …

This is Angela.

Her official title is the Managing Director of Colenso.

But actually she’s the boss.

Not just because of how she is sitting, but because of how she operates.

Leading without dictating.

Encouraging without patronising.

Liberating without restricting.

The great, great thing about Angela is that for all the experience and success she’s gained, she is open and hungry to let the energy, ambition and values of youth to keep shaping and changing where we are going.

Angela’s strength is she wants everyone to win.

She opens the door to opportunities for talent to run in and do their thing rather than closing it behind her so she can have all the power.

But then female leadership has always seen winning differently to a lot of men.

Progress for all rather than power for one.

And before certain men start spouting their sexist shit at me like they did when I wrote about how more female leadership will give the industry a real chance to grow, I appreciate not all male leaders are like this.

But a hell of a lot are.

And – if you look at Corporate Gaslighting and/or read Zoe Scaman’s brilliant, brave but totally unsurprising Mad Men and Furious Women – many of them are doing stuff … and are being allowed to get away with stuff, often by companies that talk about their commitment to their staffs wellbeing and mental health … that is a fuckload worse.