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


You Can’t Stand Out If You Want To Be The Same As Everyone Around You …

Tone of voice has always made me smile.

A list of cliched terms that somehow supposedly captures the distinctive characteristics of a brand, despite using 90% of the same language.

Fun … but aspirational.
Premium … but approachable.
Smart.
Human.
Innovative.

Blah … blah … blah …

What ends up happening is two things.

1 It ends up all coming down to a ‘look’.
2 It ends up with some people ‘getting the brand’ but never being able to articulate what it is beyond those same cliched words every brand uses
.

That’s why I loved when Dan Wieden said …

Brand voice was given a huge amount of focus and time at Wieden.

It wasn’t some scribbled words shoved on a brief at the last second that everyone ignored … it was really delving into the soul of the brand.

How it looked at the world.
The Values and beliefs.
It’s point of view.

Oh, I get it, that sounds as pretentious as fuck doesn’t it … but that’s why you can tell a NIKE spot within 1/10th of a second … regardless of the sport, the audience, the language it’s in, the country it represents or even the style of ad.

That’s right.

They get brand attribution and can be as random as fuck.

And before you say, “oh, but that’s just NIKE” … Wieden [who are/were the undisputed champions of this] did the same thing for Honda, P&G, Chrysler, Converse and any number of totally desperate brands.

The reality is, when you really invest in getting the brand voice right – both from an agency and client perspective – it becomes something far more than a look or a tone, it’s a specific and individual feeling.

And that’s why I find this obsessive conversation about ‘brand attribution’ so amusing.

Oh I get it, it’s important.

But the simplest way to get it is to simply do something interesting.

An expression of how you see the World without constraint.

A point of view others may view as provocative but actually is born from your truth.

That’s it.

It’s not hard and you’ll get attribution automatically.

And not just any attribution … but the sort that has short and long-term commercial value rather than begrudged and meaningless familiarity.

However so many brands – and the brilliant Mark Ritson has to take a lot of the blame for this – think attribution is built on the repetition of brand assets.

And while there’s some truth to that … the difference is when ‘brand assets’ ARE the idea rather than born from it, then you’re not building a brand or creating change, you’re literally investing in complicity and invisibility.

Especially if those brand assets are so bland and generalistic that to not make any impact in the real world whatsoever.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth …

You can’t have commercially advantageous attribution and be traditional at the same time.

Oh I know there’s a lot of agencies and consultancies who say you can, but they’re literally spouting bullshit.

I’ll tell you something else …

If you’re relying on opening logos, watermarks or number of brand name mentions per execution to ensure your work is being attributed to your brand … then you’re not just likely to be showing your neediness and desperation, you’re probably admitting that you’re not saying or doing something that is worthy of making people care.

In fact the only thing worse is if you hire a ‘celebrity’ to front your campaign, then have to label who they are because no one knows them.

Sorry.

Now I appreciate this sort of approach may get you a ‘Mini MBA’ from the Mark Ritson school of marketing … and it may help with internal consistency and familiarity … but I can assure you that it won’t get you a sustainably disproportionate commercially advantageous position in your category, let alone culture.

And maybe that’s fine, and that’s OK. But if it is, then own it … rather than put out press releases announcing your leadership position in the market when really what you’ve done is dictate the blandification of everything you say or do because your marketing strategy is based more on ‘blending in, than standing out’.

And nothing shows this more than tone of voice.

An obsessive focus of playing to what you think people want rather than who you are.

It’s why I always find it interesting to hear how planners approach what a brand stands for.

So many talk a good game of rigor but play a terrible game of honesty.

Spending weeks undertaking research and holding ‘stakeholder’ interviews to learn who the brand is – or wants to be – rather than going into the vaults and understanding not only why they were actually founded … but the quirks of decision they made along the way.

Don’t get me wrong, research and interviews have a place, but for me, learning about a brand at the start of life is one of the most valuable things you can do because it reveals the most pure version of themselves. Or naïve.

No contrived brand purpose … not ‘white space’ research charts … just a true expression of who they are and what they value.

Or wanted to be.

And when you start piecing those things together, you discover a whole new world.

Better yet, you get to a very different – and authentic place.

Oh, the things I’ve learned about companies over the years.

Not for contrived, bullshit heritage stories … but to understand the beliefs and values that actually shaped and dictated the formation and rise of the company, even if down the line it failed and/or modern day staff don’t know any of it.

There’s a reason The Colonel purposefully chose bigger tables to be in his restaurants when he started KFC. There’s a reason Honda made their own screws for their machines. There’s a reason Prudential helped widows and orphans.

It’s not hard, it just needs effort, commitment, transparency and honesty.

That’s it.

And while I could say this quick-fix, fast-turnaround, communication-over-change world we live in means good enough is good enough … the reality is for a lot of companies and agencies, they don’t think they’re sacrificing quality. They don’t think they’re sacrificing anything. They think they’re creating revolution and that’s the most fucking petrifying bit about the whole thing.

Inside the vaults lie the stories and clues that help you get to better and more interesting places. Not for the sake of it, but because of it. And when you get there, it will naturally lead you to bigger, bolder and more provocative acts and actions. And when you do that, then brands get all the attribution they could ever wish for, because by simply being your self, you will be different.

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For the record, I truly respect Mark Ritson.

He’s smart, knowledgable and incredibly experienced.

He has also added a level of rigour in marketing that has been missing for a long time.

I also appreciate some of the issues I talk about are a byproduct of many other things – from talent standards, corporate expectations and plain misunderstanding.

However, when you say a course is the equivalent to gaining a Mini MBA, it not creates a false sense of ability – to to mention gets more and more brands thinking, behaving and expressing themselves in exactly the same way – it suggests the focus is on personal gain over industry improvement and you run the risk of becoming the beast you wanted to slay.

That said, he’s still much smarter than I’ll ever be.



Stop Filtering Out The Weird, Because That’s What Makes Us Human …

I’ve written about this subject before, but one of the biggest issues I think is facing marketing strategy these days is the obsession with corporate logic.

The quest to create frameworks and messaging that ultimates dictates and demands order, consistency and control. Not to help clients build the brand, but to help clients feel safe and comfortable.

And while that may all sound great in theory, the reality is – as the owner of the store with the horn discovered – that it often backfires magnificently.

Because great strategy isn’t logical, its logic born from the ability to make sense of the ridiculousness of reality.

Whether that is amateur artists buying a Mona Lisa painting when they really want the frame or

And the beauty of that is it liberates the possibilities of creativity …

Whether that is an actor who lets the paparazzi see them every night to avoid being photographed by them to the Chinese Government adding a mini ‘scratch card’ on till receipts to get customers to ask for it so it forces the seller to put it through the till and the government can ensure they get their tax through to a beer that is an act of love.

I’ve been talking about the power of devious strategy for years … and while I’m not claiming it is anything extraordinary, when you compare it to what so many think passes for good – I’d choose it any day of the week.

Not just because it leads to better work, but because creative ridiculousness is becoming a far more powerful way to drive commercial effectiveness than corporate-appeasing, logic.



It’s All A Matter Of Taste …

OK, so today is a slightly un-topical post.

About Christmas.

Yes, I know that happened 2 months ago, but when has that ever stopped me?

You see I recently saw that Walkers – the royalty of Crisps – launched this.

What the hell?

Like, what the absolute hell?

I once did a project for Walkers about new flavour variations and we talked about topicality but I never – in any way – considered mince pie flavour.

I think we did say Christmas Dinner flavour.

Or maybe even Turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce flavour.

But mince pie?

No, no, no, no, no.

I particularly like how they say on the packet, ‘Limited Edition Flavour’.

No fucking shit, Sherlock.

And yet I admire the genius of it.

Let’s be honest, when something is as illogical as that, you’re going to try them aren’t you.

And when it’s linked to a particular event, it’s likely to pull in the people who don’t normally eat crisps.

Sure, it might make some crisp fanatics never try a new flavour again or make the occasional crisp scoffer, never eat another one again … but it’s still a smart strategy.

Which reinforces my view the most effective strategy these days is the ridiculous.

Ridiculous achieves what logic can’t.

Because rather than play to the norms of category behaviour are, they just ignore them.

In fact, they go off on a tangent even a protractor couldn’t measure.

Not in its entirety, but in an area that’s a necessity.

And while that sounds counter-intuitive, what it does is find a way around the in-built firewalls we have in our heads to avoid all this logical nonsense and messes with us.

Igniting our intrigue.

Demanding consideration.

Tempting us by simply being unlike anything we had ever considered.

And yet it’s not annoying.

In fact it’s pretty refreshing.

Because in a world increasingly sensible – it celebrates the bonkers … reframing how you look or feel or think about something you thought you knew all there was to be known.

In essence, it lets brands show that while they take what they do seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Which must be a huge relief for all the people who work in the company, let alone society, given all the pompous, self-righteous, pseudo-Yoda bollocks we are bombarded with day after day after day.

We did a similar thing with a campaign for DB Export Beer …

A campaign that WARC said was the most effective campaign on earth.

Further allowing us to prove the commercial effectiveness of creative ridiculousness.



In The MetaVerse, One Person Is Outside Laughing At All Of Us …

OK, I should point out I actually think the Metaverse has incredible potential.

It could revolutionise education, medicine and ignite the creation of industries that don’t even exist yet. Which is why I am still utterly baffled why Zuckerberg thought the best way to sell the technology was by putting out that utterly shit video … where you saw him and his ‘mates’ not only do things that are all possible right now, but were worse in terms of quality, creativity and interactivity.

And then I saw this picture and everything became clear …

Maybe Zuck doesn’t give a damn about the Metaverse.

Maybe he doesn’t want to help humanity evolve and develop.

Maybe the only reason he’s doing it is for the same reason a lot of conmen do things …

Because when you can distract your target, you can rob them when they’re not looking.

Now before Mr Z’s lawyers try and sue me for every penny I’ve got for saying that, I would like to point out two things.

1. I said ‘maybe’ …

That means I am absolutely not suggesting Mr Zuckerberg is a conman or only doing Metaverse for conman purposes. I am only suggesting that could be possible, however unlikely that is. Similar to me saying I could be a catwalk model.

2. Be honest. That photo is very, very creepy.

Whoever allowed that photo to get out at Facebook … I mean Meta … was either an idiot or a hero. Because when I look at that photo, I can’t help but think of this ad … except with a totally different ending.

Rather than everyone being saved in the nick of time – thanks to the hero coming in at the last moment and destroying the screen that is hypnotising and blinding the audience so they follow the words of evil – no one comes to save them, so evil walks past all of his hypnotised and blinded victims, smiling to himself that’s he got them exactly where he wants them.



I’m One Of The Top Ten Leaders Of The Year …

No, the title of that post is not wrong.

I have recently been informed that I’ve been named one of the top 10 leaders of 2021.

How good is that?

I cannot tell you how happy and proud I am at receiving this accolade.

Unfortunately, it’s for an industry I don’t work in … by a ‘magazine’ I’ve never heard of … with an award that no one cares about.

That’s right … it’s another one of those dodgy awards, like the ones we used to get for cynic, despite the company having closed – where someone who describes themselves as a ‘magazine editor’ then asks for money so they can feature the accolade they bestowed on you, in their own magazine.

So basically it’s a scam.

But beggars can’t be choosers – especially when your iPhone tells you each of your passwords has been involved in countless data breaches – so I felt I should honour the accolade by writing back to the magazine with this …

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“What an email to receive.

I cannot tell you what this means to me. I have already ordered all my stationary to be updated to include this accolade.

Please can you tell me what happens next?

Do you fly me to wherever you are to pick it up?

Will you cover flight and hotel costs?

Can I bring my family?

Can I approach security companies with an offer of me being a social media influencer?

I may be in security but you have stolen my heart with this news.

Thank you, thank you, thank you … I cannot wait to hear more”.

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So far, I’ve heard nothing.

But I have my fingers crossed.