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


Is Adland Turning Into Liz Hurley. Or Dan Bilzerian?

As many of you know, I HATE the band, ‘The Smiths’.

Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

However, I recently saw an old article from their guitarist – Johnny Marr – that I really like.

I should say that I’m not saying this because he also now hates the racist prick that is Mr Miserable Morrissey … or that he lives in Portland and has been known to play with some old W+K’ers … but because I absolutely love the last line of this quote:

Maybe I like it because I’m reacting to the many people in the industry who are achieving acclaim for not actually doing anything other than repeatedly spouting very deliberate, very self-serving soundbites … or said another way, for being famous for being famous … but the idea of someone working hard at something for the sheer desire to be good at something seems a relic of the past.

I know, I sound the grumpiest of grumpy old men.

The reality is I don’t begrudge anyone who is doing what they can to make a living.

Even if it’s utterly strategic and contrived in its motivation.

And I also know there’s people out there who do have a ‘work hard to just be better at something I want to be better at’ work ethic … people like Maya Thompson and Joel Goodall to name but 2.

But the bit that bothers me is the industry is placing so much value on people who shout stuff rather than do stuff that it is actively encouraging more people to behave this way.

Being good at something – just because it feels good to be good at something – seems to becoming more and more of an outdated concept.

In some ways I get it.

Just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you’ll be good at it. Or good to the level that it could serve you well. So why would you put in all that effort when it may not move you forward?

I also appreciate I am the last person who should be talking about this.

When I learnt the guitar, I did it because I wanted to be a rockstar.

Sure, I also wanted to write songs and play them with my bandmates, because I loved doing that … but the ‘benefits’ of stardom were definitely a major influence in my decision to pick up the 6 string.

I used to look at old guys playing in bands [ie: people who are my current age] as pathetic.

I used to think they were hanging on to dreams they’d never achieve and it was all a bit sad.

But now I’m at their age, I realise it’s no longer about that, it’s about pure enjoyment.

That regardless of what might – or probably might not – happen, the joy of doing something you love, like and are quite good at, is fulfilling enough.

Sure, there are better guitarists out there than me.

Guitarists who will achieve success, money and fame … but that’s OK, because just being able to play to a good standard is OK with me.

It’s a demonstration that I committed myself to something.

Didn’t take the easy option.

Didn’t give up.

It’s the fact I can play the guitar that makes me happy.

Of course it’s nice if others recognise that, but that isn’t important.

Neither is the case that a long time ago, I played guitar for a few semi-famous people.

In fact, given I no longer play for any semi-famous people, you could argue I’ve got worse … except I don’t think that way. Not just because so much of that is down to luck, but because I am happy that I found something that gave me – and gives me – pleasure through a constant feeling of challenge and achievement and that is not to be underestimated.

A gift that has lasted 38 years and counting.

Throughout my life I have met people who have planned their life so well.

They knew their next step … they knew the skills they needed to acquire to get where they wanted to go … they worked everything out in excruciating detail.

I used to sort-of envy these people.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I sort of bumbled along, choosing things that interested me rather than necessarily rewarded me.

Please don’t think I am claiming to be a saint, but I can say that money was never the driving factor in my choices – except once, which led to one of the most soul destroying periods of my life which reinforced that my way of making decisions – however stupid – was perfect for me.

In fact, I realise more and more that what works for me is less about efficiency of progress and more about emotional satisfaction.

And that’s why I love that Johnny Marr quote, because he captured that while people who have gained the highest job title or have been put on the highest hype pedestal are good … the real stars are the folk who simply get on with what they do.

Who take pride in a job well done because that’s the standards they operate by.

Not for progress or cash incentives, but because they believe that’s what’s right.

They view it as a testimony to their hard work and experience.

That being good at something is – to a large extent – good enough.

Sure, some of these people also sit at the top tables of companies … but most tend to be people who let other people shine through their abilities at doing something well.

I am not one of these people.

I want to be.

I try to be.

But I’m not.

I write a blog and court attention.

I try to do it for the right reasons – I genuinely do – but, let’s be honest, I also do it because for some mad fucking reason, it’s also become quite good for my career.

To be honest, that’s pretty sad and pathetic.

And that’s why I am so glad I play the guitar.

Because while my reasons to pick it up may have been flawed, it was the sheer joy of wanting to get better at something that gave me sheer joy that kept me going with it.

I hope everyone finds that thing.

We will all be better for it.

Comments Off on Is Adland Turning Into Liz Hurley. Or Dan Bilzerian?


Big Enough To Matter, But Not Big Enough To Count …

Recently I was reading an article on Brexit when I came across a comment that stopped me in my tracks.

The reason for it is that in a few words – literally a few – it not only highlighted the issue with many of the shortsighted fools who voted for leaving the European Union – and likely voted for the election of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss – but also could be used to explain the decline of so many companies, institutions and individuals.

This is it …

What a perfectly constructed sentence.

A devastating set of words that places you perfectly in a corner you can’t get out of.

It’s almost a Hollywood movie line it’s so crafted in its underlying viciousness.

But of course, the people it challenges won’t accept it.

They will continue to refuse to acknowledge their complicity in the situation millions now face.

Because as I’ve written before, people has difficulty understanding something when their credibility and reputation depends on them not understanding something.

It’s why they will continue to cast blame on everyone else.

Why they will continue to claim the opposition are more dangerous than the government they voted in … the government that has brought an entire nation to its knees.

But let’s be honest, the reason for their attitude is even uglier than not wanting to own up to what they contributed to. Because for all their claims of wanting a ‘better Britain’ … the real reason behind their choice was to create a barrier between them and people they think are beneath them.

A way to feel socially, morally, professionally superior to those around them, while conveniently choosing to ignore they were either given great advantage from birth over the vast majority of people or seek to mitigate their situation by blaming everyone else for what they have not achieved, despite starting from greater advantage.

I get it. It’s kind-of human nature. It’s also the unspoken truth of democracy – where the reality is we tend to vote for what works for you rather than what’s right for the nation.

Of course the unspoken truth is still better than the alternative … however given the way politics and business are increasingly allowing spin, vitriol and lies, it seems we’re seeing ‘post truth’ as an accepted and embraced business strategy.

And that’s why the independent voice has never been so important.

Not just in the public domain, but within organisations, governments and individual groups.

Not to attack, destroy or dethrone – as is the current trend – but to protect.

To ensure the people making decisions – or the people asking to decide on the options – are aware of the range of possibilities and outcomes that could occur rather than just blindly following a blinkered promise of what will happen.

Not delivered with hyperbole or exaggeration, but with quiet, informed context and facts … delivered by an individual or organisation without political affiliation and respected for their independence.

It doesn’t mean it will stop things like Brexit happening, but it will ensure people who knowingly bend the truths to suit their own agenda or were deliberately ignorant to the choices they made are held to account. Because without that, we carry on down this sorry path where governments, organisations or individuals can choose to ignore previous choices they made, ignore the passing of time that changes the context of everything and ignore the realities others may have caught up and left us behind.

I am under no illusion that the truth hurts, but delusion damages us forever.

Comments Off on Big Enough To Matter, But Not Big Enough To Count …


The Difference Between Brand And Band Strategy …

I was recently interviewed by a music company about the work I do for artists.

They – quite rightly – wanted to know what I did and how it was different to what I normally did.

And I explained the difference was made clear pretty much in my very first meeting.

Because I was told this …

Now I can’t be sure they used those exact words, but that was the general premise.

And that was what was amazing.

Because when working with brands, they want you to use creativity to engage audiences, but with bands – at least the ones I’ve been exposed to – it’s the opposite.

I don’t mean they want to alienate people – though they understand the importance of sacrifice better than almost any brand marketer I’ve ever met – it’s just they are the creativity … they are the product … and so the last thing they want is some fucker placing a layer of ‘marketing’ on top of their artistic expression which can be twisted, diluted or fucked with so what they want to say and what it means to them, has no consideration whatsoever.

Now I admit I’m very fortunate the artists I’m working for are of a scale where they have the power to not just consider this issue but do something about it.

Many don’t.

However by the same token, when you’re of that scale, the potential for things to get messed up in some way is much greater.

Which is why they ensured I knew my role was not to market them, but to protect their truth.

Do and explore things that amplify who they are not just flog more product.

And because what they create is an expression who they are … they can express their truth without falling into endless streams of cliched brand consultant speak.

+ So no buzz words.
+ No ambiguous terms.
+ Just stories, experiences and considerations that have defined all they do.

And that’s why they don’t really care if you like their music. Sure, it helps, but they don’t want fawning fandom, they want people who understand what they value, believe and give a fuck about so everything associated with what they do expresses it.

Or said another way, they want people who can ‘speak their tongue’.

Now I am the first to admit there have been some mistakes.

Some things you go, “why did you do that?”

But in the main, I’ve not seen much of it and even when I have called stuff out, they have [generally] appreciated it, because – as I was also told on my first day – I’m being paid to give them truth not comfort.

I’ve always said people should not aspire to be a planner, but get away with the things a planner can get away with. And I’ve got away with a lot as a planner. Done all manner of weird and wonderful.

While I’d like to think that’s what helped me get this gig … the reality is I got it because of an introduction from someone I know.

And while in theory any strategist could do what I’m doing, how I do strategy and how I have been asked to view what it’s role is, has highlighted that’s not the case.

Not because of capability, but what the industry currently wants and expects.

And this is manifested in increasingly not being given the time, support or standards to do things right.

Where speed is more important than substance.

Process more valuable than output.

I wrote about this and more, here.

But it’s more than that, it’s also what clients think strategy is for …

Packaging rather than changing.

Wanting quick wins rather than long term value.

Targeting needs, not a point of view in the world.

Chasing convenience not authenticity.

If anything, doing this work has made me even more grateful to the bosses, agencies and clients I’ve worked with over my career.

Because when I look back, the truly great ones were basically like a band.

Born of belief. Defined by a point of view. Wanting to attract not chase anything popular.

And that’s a big part of why they have been able to remain at the forefront of their individual discipline, category and/or sub-culture.

Because they never saw strategy as a tool for marketing, but to amplify their truth.

Comments Off on The Difference Between Brand And Band Strategy …


The Taste Of Bullshit …

I’ve written a ton about brand purpose over the years.

Not as viciously as my beloved Martin Weigel. But close.

It’s not that I am against brand purpose, It’s when it’s used as a marketing tool and ‘updated’ to whatever trend is currently popular that my hate boils over.

It’s why I have always advocated for belief rather than purpose.

Belief is demonstrated by what and how you do things, not what and how you say things.

Or give things away.

Belief drives change. Purpose hopes for it.

Which is probably why so many brands prefer purpose.

The ability to look like you care without always having to demonstrate it.

Take this from Unilever food brand, Knorr …

“Our purpose is to reinvent food for humanity by being healthier for both people and the land. 
 Knorr brings the power of flavour to good food to 
overcome barriers that stop us from eating for good”

Sounds good doesn’t it.

Sounds purposeful.

But for those who are not sure what Knorr make, let me enlighten you …

Yeah, when I think of flavour and good food – not to mention being good for humanity and the land – the first thing I think of is cheddar broccoli rice sides.

But maybe I’m wrong, how do you cook these things that help us ‘eat for good’?

Here’s the instructions …

Microwave directions: In 2-quart microwave-safe bowl, combine 2-1/4 cups water, 1 tbsp. margarine(optional) and contents of package. Microwave uncovered at high about 12 minutes* or until rice is tender, stirring once halfway through. Stir and serve.

Yep, thought so. Utter rubbish.

The reason I am writing this is because I recently saw a post from an ice-cream brand.

Have a look at this …

While those words sounds trite, purpose-for-marketing … food and culture are incredibly entwined and so there is a real chance it may be a badly worded version of what they really believe and do.

Let’s look at their website.

For those too lazy, here is a screenshot of their flavours …

Hmmmmn … doesn’t seem too much about people, places or cultures does it?

There’s a lot about ingredients.

Some even seem interesting. But absolutely no mention of people, places or cultures.

But is that surprising when it’s so obviously an absolute load of purpose-washing?

And what a missed opportunity.

They could truly make that into something that could change something.

Educate, unite, challenge, inform … tell the stories of the people, places and cultures that were the inspiration of those flavours through the flavours.

Ben and Jerry’s meets Tony Chocolonely.

And what makes it worse is their intentions sound honourable. They’re already a B-Corp certified business, choose ingredients that are direct-trade and believe in diversity.

All great and important things except nothing to do with what they claim they do on their packaging.

Many years ago, at Wieden, we were invited to pitch for an ice-cream brand.

We said yes because hey, it’s ice cream.

Anyway, when we got the brief, it read like a purpose fluffer.

My god, it was literally dripping in claims and terminology that not only had nothing to do with their category, but had nothing to do with any of their actions, behaviours or products.

We spoke to them about looking at ice cream another way.

If they had to have a ‘purpose’, make that purpose about what ice cream is supposed to be.

Fun and tasty.

Not deeper meaning. Just that.

And then prove it in the product, not just the experience.

You may think that is overly simplistic, but by then the entire category had gone purpose insane and no one was actually owning what they were and what people actually wanted.

Put it this way, it had gone a looooooong way from the days where BBH had brilliantly changed the way people looked at ice cream and did it in a way that was sexy, powerful and based on a real truth. [A campaign so good that is was spoofed brilliantly by Fosters Lager]

Anyway, for us, the way we could get back to what ice cream was but in a way that proved the fun was down to flavours … so unlike Jeni’s ice creams, we actually went out and talked to all manner of people about their weird tastes. Things they love others think are a bit mental. Things that make them deliriously happy for whatever reason or whatever duration. Because we saw an opportunity for the client to be more like a taste and colour experiment lab than a manufacturer of everyday ice-creams and flavours with an unbelievable purpose attached.

So we worked it all up and I remember it for 2 main reasons.

+ We used a picture of a cat in the presentation with an inverted cross on its forehead … which is still my favourite mad presentation image ever used. And I’ve used a lot.

+ When the client wanted us to justify our idea, we simply showed this …

It may not be the deepest reason you’ve ever read.

It may not even be the most exciting.

But it was definitely more believable than all the shit they were saying.

And with the flavour combinations we had and how it all came together with the creative work – which had some weird ice cream flavour meme generator at the heart of it … generating all manner of taste sensation madness out into the internet … it was something that not only would help them differentiate from the competition, but have a place and role in culture.

They hated it.

Instead they went with some bollocks about ice cream being ‘a gesture of love for those who are not rich’.

No, I’m not joking.

Which may also explain why they … Haagan Daaz and Jeni’s talk a lot about their purpose in society but are – with the possible exception of Jeni’s – increasingly irrelevant ice creams brands whereas that old, dumb favourite, Ben And Jerry’s, still has some sort of position in culture, because despite selling out to the death star Unilever, they try to do shit rather than just say it.

Emphasis increasingly on try.

But even with that, the reality is – as is the real test of any brand that claims to have purpose – they show what they believe through every aspect of what they do, even when it’s inconvenient, rather than market what they claim their purpose is, only when it suits them.

Enjoy your day. Be careful you don’t eat any bullshit.

Comments Off on The Taste Of Bullshit …


The Great Effectiveness Swindle …

There’s so many agencies, consultancies and self-appointed guru’s out there who talk about how to be successful at business.

They all have their models, eco-systems, philosophies and proof points.

And yet so few have ever done it for themselves.

They’ve chosen to ‘succeed’ under the safety-net of anothers money, reputation or effort.

That doesn’t mean what they do or think doesn’t have value – of course it does – but it also doesn’t mean their viewpoint is the only one worth counting.

And yet, every single bloody day, that’s how it is presented.

Recently someone wrote a piece on how they had used their proprietary research methodology on a Cannes winning TV ad and declared it would not deliver sustainable growth for the brand in question.

Putting aside the fact they were judging work that had won a creativity award rather than an effectiveness one … the thing I found funny was their confidence in proclaiming their view was the ultimate view.

I am not doubting their smarts.

I am not doubting their data.

But I am doubting their breadth of business appreciation.

And yet somehow, the voices of a few have positioned themselves as the be-all and end-all of effectiveness.

Don’t follow us and you fail.
Don’t follow us and your brand will lose.
Don’t follow us and you will be labeled foolish.

Now I am not denying these people do have a lot of experience and lessons we can learn from, but they’re not infallible.

But that’s how the industry approaches them.

Lording them like they are Yoda’s of the future.

But they’re not.

Don’t get me wrong, they are very good at evaluating effectiveness from a particular perspective and set of behaviours. Offering advice that can be hugely important in the decision making process.

But there’s a whole host of brands and business that have adopted totally different models and achieved ‘effectiveness and success’ that leaves others far behind.

Incredible sustainable success.

From Liquid Death to SKP-S to Gentle Monster to Vollebak to Metallica to name but a few.

Oh I know what some will say …

“They’re niche”“they’re young”“they’re not that successful”.

And to those people I would say maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about … because in just that list, it includes the biggest selling brand on Amazon, the fastest selling brand in their category on earth and the second most successful American band in history.

But there were two things that really brought the issue of mindset narrowcasting to me …

The first was the launch of a book that was basically about creating future customer desire for your brand/business.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that … but no shit Sherlock.

Has the market got so short-sighted and insular that the idea of doing things that also drive your future value and desirability become a revelation?

It’s literally the most basic entrepreneur mindset, and yet it was presented like it was Newton discovering the laws of gravity.

This person is super smart.

They’ve done a lot of good stuff.

But it just feels the actions of some in the industry are driven by the fetishisation of icon status … even though, ironically, what it does is highlight their experience may be narrower than they realise.

But at least the book had good stuff in there.

Stuff that could help people with some of the basics.

A desire to look forward rather than get lost in the optimisation circle-jerk.

This next one was a whole lot worse.

Recently an ex-employer of mine went to see a current client of mine.

Specifically the founder and CEO.

Apparently they went in to tell him he was missing out on a whole host of business and they could help him get more.

They then proceeded to present a massive document on how they would do it.

He looked at them and told them it was very interesting but they were wrong.

He told them their premise was based on a business approach he doesn’t follow or believe in.

A business approach that didn’t reflect the industry he was in, only the industry they were in.

He then informed them he had the most profitable store on the planet and so while he appreciated their time, he had faith in his approach and it was serving him well.

But it gets better.

As they were leaving – and I’ve been told this is true by someone who was apparently there – the person showing them out informed them their boss had a personal net worth of US$36 billion and based on their companies current share price, that meant he was more valuable than their entire group.

Was it an asshole thing to do?

Yep.

Do I absolutely love it?

Oh yeah.

Will I get in trouble for telling this?

Errrrrm, probably.

My point is the industry has decided ‘effectiveness’ can only be achieved and measured in one way and any deviation from that is immediately discounted or considered ‘flawed’.

Often by people who have never actually built a world leading business themselves.

Again, I am not dismissing the importance of what is being said, it’s HUGELY important – which is why I’m proud we won the Cannes/Warc effectiveness Grand Prix – but, and it’s a huge one, if we think that’s the only model and only use that one ‘model’, then we are literally adopting a single approach to solve every one of our clients every problems.

One.

That’s insane.

Not just because it’s stupid but because if everyone adopts the same approach, then impact will be influenced far more by spend and distribution that strategy.

Please note I am absolutely not saying we should burn the models or philosophies or systems that have proven their value to drive business. No. Absolutely not. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be praying at the feet of them … especially when many are simply focused on creating steady impact rather than spectacular.

Yes, I know ‘spectacular’ has a lifespan – which is why innovation is so important – but so many brands out there either aim for the middle … reinforced by processes, protocols and rules defined as ‘best practice’ by people in a particular industry … or they bake-in ‘limitation’ into their potential because they’ve blindly adopted rules they never challenge or explore from other industries or entrepreneurs.

At the end of the day, if a brand like Liquid Death can become the biggest selling water brand on Amazon because they found a way to make men actually want to drink water through a model and approach that is not only radically different to what so many of the industry experts say is ‘the only way’ … but is the opposite of it … then your brand may be inhibiting itself by following a model designed to make you fit in with it, rather than redefine how it fits in with you.

Comments Off on The Great Effectiveness Swindle …