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


The Music Industry Lifts Me Up By Putting Me Down …

A few weeks ago – thanks to Metallica’s managers – I was asked to give a presentation to another of the bands in their roster.

They’re not as big or as successful as their management mates, but they are definitely a name and had a lot of ideas about the future.

I was asked to give my perspective on what they were thinking so wrote a presentation called, ‘How to stop you becoming twats’.

To be honest, it wasn’t going to be called that, it was just an internal working title – designed to scare their management team more than anything – so you can imagine my surprise when they just laughed and said I should keep it.

I must admit, I was very, very suspicious about why they were OK with it but decided to go with it because at the very least, I could blame them, haha.

Anyway, despite the very curious faces on zoom as I presented to them at 4am New Zealand time, it seemed to have gone down well … which is why I was somewhat surprised when the day after I received this email from one of the team.

Putting aside the worry they may have actually told me to present that title because they thought I would get murdered for it, it’s quite nice to have delivered a presentation of blunt truth [albeit, well intentioned] and been thanked for it.

It’s not as good as the insult I got from Lars – which was part of this preso – but it’s still good.

Now you may wonder how I got away with it?

Well I don’t really know …

However I do have a long career of being able to be very blunt with clients in a way where they continually invite me back.

I don’t think it’s because they’re masochists.

And I certainly don’t do it because I am a prick.

It’s purely because my sole focus is to help them win better.

It’s amazing what you can get away with when the person knows your ambition is for them, not for you.

Or as one of my best ever clients said to me – the NIKE CMO, Simon Pestridge – “middle management want to be right, senior management want to know how to be better”.

I may not suggest doing it in the way I do it, but truth should never be hidden or sugarcoated to the point where no one can actually taste anything you’re saying.

And if anyone pushes back on you for wanting to do this, just point them to this post … because if senior figures in global brands and members of global rockbands can take it, anyone can.

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It’s a long weekend here for the Queen’s birthday, so enjoy the weekend and the exert day off free from my rubbish next week.



Smiling As A Weapon …

So after yesterday’s post about releasing your inner Adele, I have another post about the workplace.

Or should I say, the toxic workplace.

The reason for this is that I’ve spoken to a lot of people recently who – whether it’s because of COVID, or people’s slow return to the workplace or just people getting hired again after a year of being pretty much shut down – have all experienced a similar situation.

Which leads to this message to all managers …

Whether someone has a different view … a less favourable view … or just questions about your view … IT IS NOT A PERSONAL ATTACK.

It doesn’t mean they’re trying to undermine you or piss on your parade.

If anything, it means they care enough about you to want you to be even better though expanding your perspective.

But what is worse is I’m hearing more and more people dealing with it, through toxic positivity.

You will remember from this post, toxic positivity is the belief that “no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It’s a “good vibes only” approach to life.”

While being intimidating towards people who have different perspectives is equally as bad, at least you know where you stand. Toxic Positivity does it’s damage because it not only immediately undermines you, it makes you feel your opinion literally doesn’t matter.

I can tell you, people who always look on the bright side are far more damaging than those who keep asking questions.

Of course, how you ask – like everything in life – is important, but it’s worth remembering you don’t get to great without debate. And you don’t get to debate without an environment where people are free to be honest with you and themselves.

So if you’re getting this treatment from your manager and you’re starting to question your value and worth … go to yesterday’s post and follow Adele’s excellent advice.

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Creativity Vs Complicity …

So many ads today end up just being fancy sales brochures.

A nondescript, stylish image that either has some meaningless line thrust upon it or a literal lift of the proposition from the brief to become the headline.

Clients love it because they think there’s no wastage.

That there’s no ‘thinking’ that the audience has to do to ‘get the message’.

I remember years ago – when I was working on SONY – the client kept referencing Mr Bean.

No, I’m not joking.

They kept saying Mr Bean is understood by all. Loved by all. Communicates a message without saying a word. They were really trying to push this until I pointed out that while that’s the case, no one would spend thousands buying a TV made by Mr Bean.

Then Balls got made and undermined my argument for years. Hahahaha.

And while I hate looking backwards, I can’t help but think the past was far more interesting creatively than where we’re at today.

These days Audi talk about ‘Future is an attitude‘ when once they talked about Vorsprung Durch Technik.

We have Chivas Regal going on about ‘every taste is an experience’ when once they talked about ‘giving Dad an expensive belt‘.

Heineken now ‘open your world‘ when they once ‘refreshed the parts other beers can’t reach‘.

We have countless other brands who were once so powerful with their brand voice who have now become bland.

[Nothing sums it up like this Audi ad for the same car with pretty much the same line]

What really gets me, is we have the talent in the industry to change this.

We have the hunger as well.

But while there are exceptions – and I mean it in terms of agencies who consistently bring the work rather than the odd bit of work getting through – somewhere along the line, we seem to have chosen a path of complicity.

Without doubt the research techniques becoming more and more favoured by companies plays a part in this. As our clients who are more focused on not making a mistake than making an impact. But it cannot be ignored that agencies have a lack of desire to stand up for what they believe is right. Preferring to be complicit rather than respected.

Which may explain why so few of them believe it is worth investing in finding out what is really going on in culture – preferring instead, to either outsource it or just accept the viewpoint of whichever ‘paid for’ 3rd party the client has hired to do the work for them.

What brought this all up was seeing an old Honda ad from the late 70’s/early 80’s.

OK, so Honda have a long history of doing great work – especially from Wieden London – but it’s always been a brand that has run to its own rhythm with its own idiosyncrasies. But even they – these days – are falling into the trap of rubbing off the edges that defines who they are to become like everyone else.

This ad – like so many of the truly great early 80’s ads – came from Chiat/Day.

My god, what an agency they were.

Sadly I say ‘were’ because as much as they still have great people in there and pull off the occasional truly interesting bit of work, when you compare them to what they were like decades ago, there is no comparison.

Brave. Honest. Distinctive. Creative as hell.

Hell, even when they lost, they did it in a way where they would win.

Every single person in adland – especially at C-Suite level – should read this brilliant article by Cameron Day, son of Guy Day … one of the founders of Chiat.

‘How Big Till We Go Bad’ is a fantastic guide on how to build a truly great agency. And then destroy it.

Anyway, I digress.

The Honda ad I saw of theirs was this …

No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

Once upon a time, car manufacturers – or at least some of them – understood equality.

No cliches.

No pandering.

Just treating their audience as adults and equals.

It’s not really that hard is is, but if you compare it to what we see today, it feels we’ve regressed. [Read more about car ad devolution – with a few exceptions – here]

I do not want to look in the past.

I believe my best creative work is ahead of me.

Or at least the potential of it.

To paraphrase Death of a Salesman – or the equally brilliant Nils of Uncommon – we shouldn’t be interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around.

But the problem is, people have to see the woods are burning and I worry a bunch of the fuckers think it’s a sunset. Then again, it will be … because if we don’t push forwards, it will be the sunset on our industry and that will be the ultimate insult, because the past should never be more exciting and interesting than the future.



The Condiments Versus The Food …

I don’t understand what some people are thinking.

We have got to a point where ‘the idea’ is seemingly regarded as a superficial bit of nonsense.

A wrapper for marketing.

Something as interchangeable as a phone cover.

For some utterly imbecilic reason, ‘the idea’ is now seen as optional – a potential distraction to purpose, eco-systems, frameworks and anything else designed to elevate an idea rather than be the idea.

No wonder our industry is in such a state.

Not only have we sold the value of creativity down the river, we now have a business model based on selling condiments rather than meals.

This post isn’t about dismissing the different and the new.

There’s value in a lot of them – despite the fact most of them aren’t new, just in possession of a new name.

This is actually about being stubborn with the priorities …

Because an idea isn’t wrapping, it’s the fucking present.

Have a good weekend … we have Monday off here, so see you Tuesday.



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.