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


You Only Rest When We All Rest …

Over the Christmas period – our first in NZ – we had 3 weeks off.

When I say ‘we’, I mean the vast majority of the entire country had 3 weeks off.

Some even more.

This was a revelation to me.

As an adult – or at least my version of being an adult – I’d never had more than 10 days off at Christmas and that only happened because Christmas/New Years fell on convenient days so it was worth using some of my annual holidays for it.

And it was when I returned to work this time that I realised how much this 3 week break had positively affected me.

Now you could argue anyone would feel that way after that length of break, but I felt very emotionally scarred from a very traumatic December that included the loss of a dear friend, an unexpected operation for Otis and an unexpected hospital visit for me – so to come back feeling refreshed and relaxed was somewhat of a surprise.

And then I realised why this had happened.

Because it wasn’t just me who had enjoyed this break, but the whole country.

An entire nation who deeply value, respect and treasure this holiday.

And because of this, there were no emails … no last minute requests … no urgent presentations.

In fact, there were no interaction whatsoever.

And it was that ‘blanket break’ that made all the difference.

Because when no one is worried about receiving an emergency request or being left behind because everyone is at work while they’re on holiday, they can properly relax.

OK, so it helps its summer … but the universal freedom from worrying about work means everyone relaxes and replenishes.

Hell, we even made a joke about it by creating a holiday gift that was a personalised restraining order for our clients … a demand for them to not contact anyone from Colenso for a period of 21 days.

And while it was all done with tongue very firmly in-cheek, the benefit of following it was real.

Because truly rested clients and colleagues are better clients and colleagues … emotionally, physically and mentally.

In many ways, the most effective way to drive quality, efficiency and happiness is to enforce mass escape.

Not team bonding days.
Not project sprints.
No bullshit claims of unlimited holidays.
But a break.
A significant, mass, vacation that’s treated by all as sacrosanct.

Of course nations in Europe have been doing this sort of thing for decades …

And while many in the UK and US tend to look down on them as if they’re an act of weakness, they’re missing the point.

Because life isn’t simply about what you have, but how you live.



Design Changes Possibilities …

Yesterday I wrote about laziness in retail, well today I’m going to write about when you care deeply about it.

Have a look at this packaging:

Maybe it’s because I’m half Italian.

Maybe it’s because pasta is my undisputed favourite food.

Maybe it’s because the brand uses wheat from the region of Italy my family is from.

But how utterly glorious is it?!

It does everything packaging should do …

It is distinctive without trying too hard.

It shows the quality of the product inside.

It feels premium without being pretentious and charming without being childish.

It is a bloody masterpiece.

I love that because the pasta shape is an integral part of the packaging design, it allows the overall look to be clean while still being informative.

What’s even better is that while it started out as a project by Russian designer, Nikita Konkin … it ended up being turned into a real brand by German company, Greenomic Delikatessen, who bought the idea of Nikita.

Or said another way …

Creativity turned an everyday product into something with a highly desirable and distinctive commercial value.

Isn’t it funny how all those marketing training programs being flogged left, right and centre never talk about this sort of thing. Instead it’s all dot-to-dot processes to build identikit branded assets, eco-systems and strategy frameworks.

But then this also shows the difference between design and adland.

Designers identify real problems and look for ways to solve them with clarity, simplicity and distinctiveness. Whereas too many in adland choose what problem that want to solve and then add all manner of complexity to the solution in a bid to look like they’re fucking geniuses or to try and justify the ever decreasing fee the procurement department is forcing on them.

Remember Peggy?

The ‘innovation’ JWT Australia claimed ‘would allow their client to empower people to maximise their day through weather aggregation technology’. What that bullshit translated to was a ‘scam product and app’ that would tell you if it was going to rain so you’d know if you should hang your clothes out to dry

Yep, forget weather apps.

Forget USING YOUR EYES TO LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.

JWT was going to revolutionise the ‘washing line process’.

By making it longer, shitter and more expensive.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Unsurprisingly nothing happened with it because it was utter bollocks whereas everything happened for Nikita because he actually saw something that had real commercial value without extensive investment.

However in classic Russian melodrama style, he says he came up with the idea when he was “in love and perhaps this influenced me, though it could be just a coincidence” … which suggests he’s no longer in love and probably spending his time designing vodka bottles that look like your heart is dying. Or something.

I have written a lot in the past about the importance and value of design.

Whether it was the brilliant SONOS ‘sound waves‘ or the potential of using BK’s new logo as an emoji for food ordering.

Underpinning all of this is consideration, simplicity and craft.

Yes, I appreciate a personal project affords you more time than a client project … but designers are getting it right more often than adland and yet the talent in adland is there.

There’s tons of it. Everywhere.

And while there are still some amazing things coming out from the industry, I can’t help but feel design is pushing the possibilities of creativity more … which means the issue for adland must be something else.

Whether that is time, expectation, budgets or relationships, I’m not sure … but whatever it is, the attitude of ‘good enough is good enough’ is far too prevalent these days.

Or should I say, it is until someone like Nikita comes along and shows companies what they could have if they allow the experts to show them how they see the World rather than being told what to create by a committee of middle managers who value speed over quality and lack taste, judgement and real understanding of their audience.

It’s not easy to make something great.

But as a packet of pasta proves, it’s worth it.

Creatively, commercially and culturally.



Just Bung It In The Oven …

Hello there.

I hope you all had a wonderful festive season.

I hope 2022 rewards us with all the opportunities and possibilities that the past 2 years took away.

I hope we can see our friends.

See our families.

Be healthy.

Be happy.

Live with hope and optimism.

Now I said this blog wasn’t going to be back until Jan 31st … and it isn’t.

And frankly, after the December I had – which included the death of a dear friend, an unexpected hospital visit for me and an emergency operation for Otis [who is fully recovered, thank god] – I need all the time I can get to recuperate.

However on Sunday, it is 23 years since my Dad died.

In just 6 years time, he will be gone as long as he was in my life.

And in 9 years time, I will be the age he was when he died.

They will be two very significant moments in my life and – if I’m being honest – I’m nervous of one and scared of the other.

Nervous because it just seems impossible he will have been out of my life more than he was in it.

Of course he is still in my life, but you know what I mean.

Scared because the reality of death comes ever nearer.

Now I know no one knows when someone is going to die – but the idea that it could be when I’m 60 – like he was – is an irrational thought that just sits there. Coming out when I least expect it.

And when it’s quiet, another ridiculous idea enters my mind.

Because Mum died at 83 and Dad died at 60 … I can also convince myself I’ll die between those 2 ages.

So 72.

Now I get 72 is quite a way a way, but it feels a fuckload closer when you’re 51 and your son is only 7.

But all this could be the melancholy of this being Dad’s anniversary, because the reality is I’m happier in my life than I’ve been for a long time.

Not that I was unhappy, but there were moments … but right now, I am in a truly good place and my parents would be so happy to know that.

Which is why I want this post to be about something that would make Dad smile.

A few weeks ago, Jill and I were talking about books that made us laugh to the point of pain.

While we both had a few, her major one was Catch 22 and mine was the first Adrian Mole book – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾.

Adrian Mole’s ‘diary’ came out in 1982 but I got it in the summer of 1983 … which means I read it at the same age as Adrian was.

I loved it. It was hilarious, poignant, tragic and uplifting.

It covered so many issues so many kids were going through.

Family. Friendship, Girls. Sex. Arguments. Parent and Grandparent arguments.

It was, in some ways, the diary of every kids aged 13.

I loved it and still love it when I revisit it every 5 years or so.

But the reason I’m telling you this is because of when my Dad read it.

I think Mum had told him how much I enjoyed it so he decided to check it out.

Anyway, one morning I came downstairs and Mum asked me to ask Dad about what happened in the night.

She said it with a smile, so I knew it wasn’t bad.

I went in the lounge and he was there in his favourite rocking chair.

“Mum told me to ask you what happened last night”

As soon as I said it, he looked at me. His face lit up, a big smile came on his face that allowed his gorgeous dimples to come into the spotlight.

“Oh Robert …” he said, “I was reading your book last night and the bit about the Christmas turkey not being defrosted made me howl with laughter.”

“It was 2am and I had to come downstairs to try and calm down”.

“The bit where they’re trying to thaw the turkey under the hot tap in the bath …” to which he he burst out laughing again with tears in his eyes.

Of course, seeing my Dad like this made me laugh too and then I heard Mum laughing from the kitchen at the state of both of us.

While I never really understood why that bit tickled him so much, I have an idea.

Whether it was the time Mum invited a really miserable elderly couple to our Christmas dinner but only announced it a few days before Christmas and we already had a house full booked … to Dad’s terrible first ever experience with a microwave that literally carbonised sausages … to drunk family members causing scenes … to buying a turkey so big it didn’t even fit in our over … to a not-very-funny-but-very-funny episode with a glass of water when his Mum came to visit.

Who knows. Maybe it was some of that, maybe it was none of it.

But regardless of the reason, I will always remember how that paragraph revealed the child in my Dad and that is why I will always love that book.

It might also explain why I love the Plenty Christmas ad from a couple of years ago. Because watching it again, it’s basically that scene made as a commercial.

I miss my Dad.

I miss him so much.

I would give anything to be able to talk to him and discuss what I’ve done in the last 23 years.

Introduce him to his daughter in law and grandson.

Tell him that Paul and I are still inseparable and mischievous.

Show him all the places I’ve visited and lived and then tell him about all the things I’ve done and still want to do and try.

Watch him try to take it all in and then hear all his questions.

But as I can’t, I’ll honour him by sharing the paragraph that made him roar [which is at the very bottom of this post] and say this:

Dad. I love you.

I think about you all the time.

I am almost overwhelmed with the things I want to say and share.

I hope you’d like [most] of the decisions I’ve made. I know a few would raise eyebrows, but hopefully not too many.

All I’ve ever wanted to do is make you and Mum proud.

I hope I’m doing that overall.

A kiss to you and Mum.

And a lifetime of my love.

To the rest of you, give your loved ones a hug and see you on the 31st.

_________________________________________________________________

The Secret Life Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Friday December 25th (1981)

I went up to the bathroom and found my mother crying and running the turkey under the hot tap.

She said, “The bloody thing won’t thaw out, Adrian. What am I going to do?”

I said, “Just bung it in the oven.” So she did.

‘We went down to eat Christmas dinner four hours late. By then my father was too drunk to eat anything.’



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.



The Rise Of Keep The Problem Alive …

So I know I said last week was the last of the Rules By Rubin … but then I did also say there may be some more in the future.

Well consider this the future.

Shit isn’t it?

Don’t worry, it’s just for today and tomorrow then we go back to normal.

So just as shit. Sorry.

Anyway this is about the state of the creative industry.

Whereas once, it was filled with companies all wanting to create wonderful things to put into the world – regardless of their individual discipline or expertise – the emergence of consultancies has led to the industry now falling into 2 groups

Those who can’t help finding ways to put creativity out into the world in interesting ways and those who seemingly do all they can to never put anything out whatsoever.

While I sort-of understand the theory why agencies would like the idea of being like a consultancy, what I’ve found especially bizarre is that in doing that, they’re seemingly happy to dismiss making any actual creativity at all.

At first I was really confused how they thought they’d stay in business.

I mean, there are as many competitors as there are in adland.

Their entire model is designed around making actual creative work.

The lack of C-Suite engagement is more individual than entire industry.

Then I thought maybe I was completely wrong.

That they did want to make work.

After all, why else would their excellent strategists continually write 100 page decks filled with charts, ecosystems, frameworks and playbooks to every single client meeting?

Surely that is a sign of a company actually wanting to make something.

But then on closer inspection, I saw a lot of those decks had no creativity mentioned in them whatsoever.

And the conversation around audience was simplistic, generalist and utterly contrived.

In essence, they talked a hell of a lot but actually said very little.

“What the hell was going on?” I would ask myself.

And then on a cold night one Wednesday, I worked it out.

Those planners aren’t writing strategic decks, they’re creating remuneration landfill.

Thank fuck for the others.

The ones who know who they are.

The ones who push rather than pander.

The ones who create opportunities not wait for them.

The ones who run to the edge rather than run on the spot.

The ones who finish interesting things to start making more interesting things.